The Rome Escape Line
The Story of the British Organization
in Rome for assisting Escaped
W W NORTON if COMPANY INC New Yorfc
COPYRIGHT 1960 BY S. I. DERRY
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 60-10567
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OP AMERICA
I wish to acknowledge the great help given to me by Mr Peter
Lord in producing this book; for the very many hours he spent
wading through documents, checking records, taking down
pages and pages of shorthand notes, and his unfailing patience
and enthusiasm in typing the script.
This book has been written unbeknown tp Monsignor Hugh
OTlaherty, C.B.E.: one of the finest men it has been my privi-
lege ever to meet. Had it not been for this gallant gentleman,
there would have been no Rome Escape Organization. I sin-
cerely trust that nothing I have written will cause him any pain
I should also like to refer to the great debt of gratitude I owe
to Lieutenant-Colonel John Furman, M.C. and Lieutenant-
Colonel William Simpson, M.C. I fear no words of mine can
adequately express my admiration of the wonderful work done
by these two courageous officers during those months in enemy-
1. Road to Rome 9
2. Cabbages and Colonnades 24
3. Two Tall Monsignors 36
4. Underground Army 53
5. No Red Tabs 72
6. New Year Nightmare 94
7. Ghost of the Vatican 1 10
8. Homing Pigeon and Caged Lion 130
9. Ides of March 150
10. Denunciation 17
1 1 . Thrust and Parry 189
12. Open City 206
13. Liberation 222
between pages 124 and 125
The Author before his Desert Capture
St Peter's Square, Rome
Snapshot of Monsignor Hugh O' Flaherty in Rome
The Author, Father Owen Snedden, and another
The German Pass acquired by the Author, and signed
by the German Minister
The Author and Father Owen Snedden, near St Peter's,
The Vatican Gardens
Nancy Derry, the Author's Wife
Lieutenant John Furman
Lieutenant Furman's Note from the Regina Coeli
The Author's British Military Police Pass
The Medallion presented to the Author by Pope Pius
XII to commemorate his Audience
Road to Rome
IHIS is madness, I thought, as the carriage door whipped open,
and I plunged from the speeding prisoner-of-war train out into
the Italian morning sunshine. I had jumped on the spur of the
moment, and I still wince when recalling how the stony track
rushed up to hit and bounce me, and then rose to hit me again,
fearsomely close to the deafening roar and clanking of the car-
riage wheels. The air was blasted from my lungs in a sudden,
overwhelming flash of multi-coloured pain.
I first touched the ground in an ungainly crouch, pitched for-
ward, skidded on all fours, and, after an eternity of seconds,
scraped to a spread-eagled halt, flat as a deflated inner tube.
I lay waiting to be shot.
Incredibly, inexplicably, the shots never came. Maybe if the
German guards fired at all they did so while I was hurtling
through the air and bouncing along the ballast. The north-bound
train, with its nailed-in cargo of British prisoners-of-war, raced
on towards Germany, the terrifying clatter of the iron wheels
faded rapidly into a confused rumble, and then to blessed silence.
Still only half aware of reality, but satisfied that I remained in
one piece, I could scarcely believe my good fortune. I had broken
every rule in the escape-book, and should have broken every
bone in my body.
Train-jumping was the gateway to freedom for many British
prisoners during the Second World War, but it was a hazardous
business from which satisfactory results came rarely if the rules
were not carefully observed. I was better placed than most to
know them, and if I had stopped to think before jumping I
should probably not have chosen the moment when the crowded
prison-train was blundering through the Appenine foothills at
rather more than thirty miles an hour, but would have waited for
it to slacken speed on a gradient; nor would I have jumped in
the broad daylight of morning, with the friendly cloak of night
still far ahead; nor while the train was in a deep cutting, with
steep banks on either side, and no possibility of a dash for cover.
10 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Moreover, I was inadequately clad for escape, without food,
money, documents, maps, or even any clear idea where I was,
and final folly I had jumped from the wrong side of the train
that is, the side from which guards, leaning through windows,
could the more easily raise their carbines and fire back along the
By all the rules, if I avoided breaking my neck, I should have
been peppered with bullets, or failing that, the best to expect was
that the train would be stopped, and a detachment of unsympa-
thetic guards sent to reclaim me. As it was, I was so grateful for
my luck that I could overlook the hammer-blow pains and a
violent stabbing sensation in the right leg. For the second time
since falling into the German bag in February, the previous
year, I was free again. I could hardly refrain from laughing
After the night in a dim and airless railway compartment, the
glare of the summer sun hurt, and I had to screw up my eyes,
and shield them with an unsteady hand. I looked back along the
track towards Sulmona, northward along the track towards Ger-
many which I had said I would never reach, and along the
tops of the embankments. Nowhere was there any sign of life or
Content in spite of the nagging pain in my leg, I dragged
myself up the steep bank, and surveyed the Italian landscape,
yellow and dusty green under a blue sky. It was farmland, but
scrubby, and studded with the stony outcrops of the foothills,
and, although I knew little of the Italian rural economy, it was
fairly obvious that it would not be densely populated. The com-
bination of few people and a certain amount of cover, in the
form of rocks, bushes, and occasional copses, was promising, for
while I was grateful to find myself in one piece, I realized that
I was in no condition to travel far. With more bruises than I had
ever collected on the pre-war rugby field, I felt rather as though
I had been charged by a rhinoceros.
Consequently the two miles of Italy over which I crawled in
the next hour and a half were the longest I ever knew. The urge
to stop and rest was almost irresistible, yet prison-camp caution
prevailed, and I was never quite satisfied with the cover that
presented itself. It seemed an age before I reached a small but
relatively dense wood, which offered not onlv reasonable cover
ROAD TO ROME II
but also an interesting view of a little group of squat, flaking
buildings, forming the centre of a peasant smallholding, on the
rising ground above. Where there are people there is food; but
escape is always largely a waiting game, so I settled as comfort-
ably as possible among the prickly bushes, watched, and waited.
So far as I had a plan at all, it was to head southward and
link up with the Allied forces which had already landed in the
toe of Italy. I thought I was on the road to reunion with the
Allies, with the Gunners, and, perhaps, at length with my wife,
Nancy, at home in Nottinghamshire. I supposed I would be
posted 'missing' again, and wondered what she would think
she, to whom I had so recently written plaintively, "What an
end of three years' fighting, to be captured, especially after my
luck. . . ." But the road on which I had embarked so impetu-
ously that morning did not take me either towards the front line
or towards Nancy; I was on a strange road to Rome.
In the scrubby wood, with sunny shafts slanting like theatrical
spotlights down through the branches on to the leggy ants that
marched and counter-marched with pointless determination
round where I lay, my only desires for the immediate future were
food, drink, and a bottle of embrocation. To plan further ahead
was useless, but I had ample time to reflect as I lay and waited
for the sunlight to surrender to the dusk; escapers are creatures
of the night.
As a Territorial officer in the Royal Artillery, I had gone to
France with the woefully inadequate British Expeditionary Force
on the outbreak of war, and, thanks to the gallantry of big men
with little ships and my own good fortune, had emerged un-
scathed through Dunkirk. After the fall of France the only land
front on which Britain remained in engagement with the enemy
was North Africa, so I was not surprised to find myself a Desert
Rat. In the early days, before General Rommel's Afrika Korps
joined the unwarlike Italians, there was a peculiar swashbuckling
charm about the way in which a little British Army fought its
way up and down the narrow coastal strip that confined the ebb
and flow of the desert war. But as 1941 wore on, the increasing
number of Germans on the sand added a new element of grim-
ness to the North African campaign, and at the beginning of
1942, after a misunderstanding with the infantry 'screen,' my
battery was overrun, and I found myself 'in the bag.'
12 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
It was my first experience of being a prisoner, and I did not
care for it, but escape proved almost too easy. Probably the Ger-
mans had never expected to make such an impressive haul of
prisoners at one go, and consequently supervision of the de-
pressed Englishmen herded together near the ^dge of a wadi
an ancient river gorge, long dried up was well below the usual
Nazi standards of efficiency. Since I was the officer who had
chosen that site as a defence point, I had a pretty thorough
knowledge of the local geography, and it seemed that if I could
only get into the deep wadi there would be a sporting change of
After obliging a questioning German intelligence officer with
my rank and name, I worked my way through the group of
prisoners, almost inch by inch, as near as I could to the edge of
the ravine, and then made a dash for it. My luck held good, and
although the guards opened fire, there was enough desert scrub
to provide cover, and in 200 yards I had reached the steep edge,
and was over. Rolling and sliding down the slope, I reached the
bottom in a flurry of sand and small stones right beside the
barely visible entrance of a tiny cave. I shot into it like a rabbit,
squeezed all six-foot-three of me into its comforting darkness, and
lay there panting, and feeling pretty pleased with myself. The
Germans could not send vehicles down, and if they spared a few
of their infantry guards there was still a good chance of evading
discovery. In fact, the Germans lost interest in me with unflatter-
ing rapidity, and the spasmodic rifle-fire and shouting from above
ceased almost before I had regained my breath.
I remained until dusk, and then, guided by the stars, jog-
trotted along the wadi and over the desert for eighteen miles
before catching up with the Allied rearguard and coming close
to being shot by an alert Scottish highlander. If this is escape
there is not much to it, I thought, but I was to learn that it is not
always so simple. For, after a few more minor battles, I was cap-
tured again the following July, when we were overtaken by a
German motorized unit while foot-slogging back to the last-ditch
defence line at El Alamein. This time my luck had gone off duty,
because we had seen the vehicles from afar, and had taken cover
behind boulders, but the Germans had decided to camp near
by for the night and to dig their latrines right in the middle of
ROAD TO ROME 13
Bundled into a captured British ambulance, I was confronted
by a blue-scarfed German officer, who remarked in surprisingly
good English, "I seem to have seen you before weren't you near
Derna a few months ago?" This was the sort of question often
posed in an attempt to extract information, but my routine non-
committal reply produced a sardonic grin of disbelief from the
"Oh, yes, you were," he retorted. "You are Major Deny, of
the First Field Regiment."
There was no point in further denial, for five months after my
first capture, 800 miles away, I had been retaken by the very
same German unit, and was now being interrogated by the same
We spent the rest of the time in the ambulance, chatting quite
cosily, for he had spent most of his pre-war summers in the Isle
of Man, as a T.T. rider for one of the German motor-cycle manu-
We drove, eventually, north-west to Matruh, and hopes of
making another dash for liberty declined when I was put into a
strong prisoner-of-war cage, which we ourselves had built earlier,
and as, stage by stage, we moved towards the west, escape chances
seemed hourly to become slimmer. Finally, in an ancient transport
aircraft, a number of us were flown across to the Italian mainland.
We were not provided with parachutes, and it was an unnerving
experience for British officers, who knew how thoroughly Royal
Air Force Hurricanes and Beaufighters were sweeping the nar-
row sea-lane between Africa and Sicily. Ironically, at a time
when hardly any of the German supply planes were getting
through to the hard-pressed General Rommel, this ancient trans-
port machine, with its load of unproductive mouths for the Axis
to feed, waddled safely to Lecce, in Southern Italy. Since I had
not been prepared to wager on our making landfall at all, I was
happy enough to have both feet on the ground again, even on
On the other hand, escape now was clearly going to present
considerable problems, and although I could not discover the
ghost of an opportunity at the transit camp at Bari, I was de-
lighted to discover on arrival at the enormous P.G.2I at Chieti
that I need no longer be a lone wolf. The camp, the largest of its
kind in Italy, contained 1200 officers, and most of them seemed
14 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
to be engaged in some form of activity aimed at escape. They
were linked together in a remarkable organization, which could
provide anything from cash, clothing, and 'official* passes to iron
rations and train timetables. The versatility of the organization
sprang from the wide range of experience and interest of its vast
membership, which represented a complete cross-section of
British life spiced by the inclusion of a few celebrities like
Freddie Brown, the England Test captain and manager, and
Tony Roncoroni, the English Rugby international, and Phillip
Gardner, London's first V.C. of the war.
Eventually, I became a member of the escape committee, which
co-ordinated all the getaway plans, and was assigned the task
an incongruous one for a large gunner with a civilian background
of building and water-engineering of securing the provision of
rations for escapers and tunnel-builders. This work involved the
construction, from condensed milk, biscuits, chocolate, and other
unlikely ingredients discovered in Red Cross parcels, of small
hard-tack cakes, which were as tough as teak, and tasted like
sweetened sawdust, but were so high in nutriment that a man
could cany food for a fortnight in one pocket. It was unfamiliar
work, but it brought me into touch with many aspects of escape
organization that I had never dreamed existed, and it did not
take long to learn that escaping from Europe involved much more
than making a dash for it, and setting a hopeful course under the
I might have remained a minor and insignificant member of
the organization but for an unexpected development in the spring
f Z 943* The entire population of the camp was turned out on
parade in the middle of the night. At first nobody was much con-
cerned, since that sort of thing had happened before, sometimes
because the guards were in a panic and wanted to make a snap
roll-call, and sometimes, we suspected, merely for the pure hell
of it. On this occasion a disconcerting difference became clear
when the Italian guard commander read out a list of the names
of officers who were to be transferred from the camp in an hour's
time a list that included most of the senior officers and all the
principal members of the escape committee.
Still relatively the new boy, I was not named, and immediately
after roll-call the Senior British Officer, Colonel Marshall, sent
for me, and commanded, "Deny, I want you to take over the
ROAD TO ROME 15
escape committee as from now. You've only got an hour to find
out all you need to know from the others, so you'd better get
"Very good, sir," I replied, feeling the situation was anything
In a flurried fifty minutes I chased round all the members of
the shattered committee as they gathered together their blankets
and biscuit-tins full of the pathetic possessions that in a prison
camp become a man's greatest treasures and the sole surviving
indications of his individuality.
As the dust settled behind the departing lorries I was left with
a nagging worry, for the membership of the escape committee
was something that the Italians would have been unlikely to dis-
cover unaided : somewhere among Chieti's caged hundreds there
must be a traitor. It was unwise to permit major escape activity
until this leak had been checked, so I asked the new committee to
direct all its immediate efforts towards the unmasking of treachery.
The inquiry continued for weeks, and we were never wholly
successful, although all investigations seemed to lead to the camp
sick-quarters, where several non-commissioned Allied prisoners
My own suspicion fell most heavily on the small dark frame
of a multi-lingual private named Joe Pollak, a Cypriot of Czech
extraction, who was f requently in animated conversation with the
Italian guards, and was apparently on good terms with them.
Pollak, who mixed little with the other prisoners, probably knew
that he was under observation, but remained always enigmatic
and inscrutable and continued to chat with the guards in his
flawless Italian. Apart from that, he never put a foot wrong, so
we had to treat the whole of the hospital as a potential hot-bed
of spies, and issued firm instructions that no information about
escape activity, however trivial, should be allowed to drift in that
That done, the committee set about the complete re-organiza-
tion of the camp's escape system. The basic plan was one of mass-
production, and from that time there were never fewer than six
escape tunnels under construction at a time. Whenever the
probing guards discovered the beginnings of one, as they did
occasionally, in spite of the ingenuity of sapper officers in creating
concealed entrances, another was started at once.
l6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
As the work progressed I became convinced that the natural
corollary to mass-production was mass-escape, for obviously the
discovery of one successful tunnel after a break-out would jeopar-
dize all the others that were near completion. So the orders went
out to the sweating teams of troglodytes, who spent their days
entombed, scraping at the dry earth with primitive tools or even
with their hands, that work on each tunnel was to be stopped at
the point where it could open up on the far side of the walls and
the wire at short notice. The theory was that if half a dozen
tunnels could burst through the surface simultaneously a large
number of prisoners might be able to make their way to freedom
before the alarm was raised.
At one stage I became hopeful that the tunnels, with all their
appalling difficulties for men below and above the ground we
had to cultivate enormous vegetable gardens to dispose of the
excavated earth might never be needed at all, for over the secret
radio-receiver, maintained by the organization in one of them,
came the welcome news that the Allies had overrun Sicily, in-
vaded Italy, and precipitated the fall and arrest of Mussolini, the
Fascist dictator. The invading armies were still hundreds of miles
south of Chieti, but it seemed quite possible that the Italian guards
might desert, and leave the way open for a mass walk-out
which, in fact, is what did happen at a number of camps.
But the vital information which the secret radio did not give
was that the whole area around Chieti was swarming with crack
German paratroops, dropped, in an audacious plan by Hitler, to
rescue Mussolini, then held by the new civil authorities in a hotel
among the hills to the west of the camp. This daring raid was
successful, and Mussolini was flown off to the north in a light
German aircraft. But the highly trained paratroops remained
and took over control of P.G.2I. Without warning, our Italian
guards were suddenly replaced by humourless and grimly efficient
Germans, and although escape preparations went on, there was
a new, wary alertness in the air, which made men jumpy and
cautious even with their friends.
We realized that the change meant we were all destined eventu-
ally for transfer to Germany. Early in September the tough new
guards suddenly ordered the evacuation of 400 prisoners, but did
not specify names, and the escape committee were able to select
for the transfer men who were not already 'detailed' to escape.
ROAD TO ROME 1J
There was barely time for us to congratulate ourselves on thus
preserving the structure of the escape organization before the
Germans ordered the evacuation of a second 400. That con-
vinced me that no further time could be lost if escape prepara-
tions, already more or less complete, were to serve any useful
purpose, for it was now clear that the entire camp was soon to be
The long-planned mass-escape scheme was brought into im-
mediate operation, and that same evening, by the time the bunga-
low lights went out and the machine-gun-tower searchlights
started their restless probing, the five tunnels that were ready to
break the surface were crammed with prisoners, all fully equipped
for life in a hostile land. At the heads of the narrow tunnels five
men, their hair, ears, and eyes clogged with dust, painfully scraped
away the last bulwark of earth. Almost simultaneously five small
holes appeared outside the walls, and all forty-six men who had
been entombed got clean away into the night.
So far as we could ascertain next morning, the Germans never
missed them, and had no idea of the existence of the tunnels.
Probably in the first place they had not been given very precise
figures for the population of the camp when they took it over
from the Italians. At all events, when the rest of us were evacu-
ated later in the day the Germans lost a few more prisoners, in-
cluding some who were sealed in incomplete tunnels, and one
group who spent three days hidden in the camp water-tower.
To me, the breaking up of the Chieti camp seemed tragic, for
many more successful escapes could have been accomplished, in-
cluding my own. I would have given much to occupy one of the
escape 'billets' in which we left some of our comrades, but we
had already decided, at our emergency meeting of the committee,
on a firm rule of precedence, allocating all available places to the
men who had done the physical work of making them. So, with
the last batch of prisoners to leave, I made the journey to our new
camp at Sulmona, carrying our precious secret radio rolled in my
blanket. It gave it an odd, angular shape, but failed to attract un-
The first look around the new camp was depressing. Rocky
soil ruled out tunnels and even 'hidey holes, 5 and, after discussing
the problem from all angles, the escape committee had to advise
the prisoners that only ground-level escapes seemed to have much
l8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
chance of success. It was a tribute to the ingenuity and enterprise
of the prisoners that two or three audacious bluffs did, in fact,
succeed, though not my own, thanks to the intervention of a
Senior British Officer.
I had not been long at Sulmona before I noticed that the
guards were paying scant attention to the horse-drawn rubbish
cart, which periodically took away the camp's refuse. One day I
clambered aboard, and, reckoning myself least conspicuous if
most obvious, sat comfortably on top of the mountain of rubbish,
trying to look as much as possible like an Italian peasant. The
cart attracted even less attention than usual as it rumbled gawkily
through the gates, for the guards were fully occupied with the
Senior British Officer, who was arguing vociferously with them
about some small administrative technicality. My troubles were
almost over, when the S.B.O., raising his eyes towards heaven
in a moment of exasperation, found himself looking up at one of
his own officers, seated like a ragged monarch on a mouldy
He boggled. "Where the devil are you going, Deny?" he de-
I gave the only possible answer in broad basic English, and
From the start, we had all realized that Sulmona was likely
to be only a staging-point, and that our ultimate destination was
Germany. When, therefore, the order for evacuation came it was
not really a surprise. But we were not prepared for the additional
order that we should march to the railway-station. This was
tragic, because it meant that valuable escape equipment had to
be left behind. I had to abandon practically all my personal
possessions to make room in my blanket roll for the vital wireless-
set on which we all depended for our news of the war's progress.
Periodically, during the long march, the radio protruded in-
quisitively from one end or other of the blanket, but I was not
unduly perturbed, because I knew that the Germans guarding us
were front-line soldiers on their way home on leave. While they
were no doubt formidable fighting men, they were unlikely to be
very familiar with the wiles of prisoners-of-war. On the other
hand, they might be inclined to be trigger happy, so that any
open attempt at escape could become a short cut to eternity.
This assessment of our guards proved to be right, for while
ROAD TO ROME 19
they never gave a second glance at the guilty bundle under my
arm, they all seemed to fire at once when one of our group made
a bolt for it at Sulmona station. Captain Jock Short covered only
twenty yards, in his suicidal bid for freedom, before he crumpled
and fell, riddled with bullets. He would not have been more
efficiently shot if he had stood before a firing-squad.
Subdued, most of the prisoners were herded into closed box-
cars, and sealed in, but, with other officers of field rank, I was
thrust into a third-class compartment a subtle class distinction,
which had the advantage of comfort and sanitation, but the
corresponding disadvantage of surveillance by an armed guard.
I would not have given much for the chances of getting out of
one of the unguarded box-cars, but escape from my compart-
ment looked little more promising. After what had happened to
Captain Short, there was no reason to doubt that the guards were
prepared to shoot to kill.
Yet I could still think of nothing but escape. From the first
turn of the wheels towards Germany, in the small hours of the
morning, I became increasingly restless, oppressed by the con-
viction that getting away from the Germans was no longer merely
a personal desire, but also a matter of honour : I felt, however
irrationally, that the officers herded into the stinking, airless box-
cars would expect me, as leader of the escape committee, to make
my break, if only to avenge in some small measure the death of
I found myself popping up and down in my seat like a jack-in-
the-box, unable to think reasonably of anything except what the
rhythm of the wheels was thumping through my ears, I must get
away ... I must get away . . . Once or twice I even found myself
muttering it aloud.
As the determination to escape became more and more in-
sistent, so I grew less and less capable of working out any method
of achieving it. So far as I could think constructively at all, I was
striving desperately to estimate the speed and position of the
train, as it grumbled over the Apennines into the western foot-
hills and into daylight.
There was still no plan of any sort in my mind when at about
8.30 A.M. I asked for permission to use the toilet, and was accom-
panied by a burly unshaven paratrooper, carrying a carbine, to the
end of the coach. Possibly I wanted to leave the compartment
2O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
only because of sheer impatience and frustration, and certainly
I was in no way prepared for an escape attempt, I had not rested
for a moment through the interminable night, I was wearing
only a shirt, trousers, and shoes, and all my food and remain-
ing escape equipment were still with the wireless-set and my
outer clothing in the luggage-rack.
I looked round the toilet compartment, cursing my inability
to escape from it. It had one door, outside which stood the armed
guard, and one window, boarded up, and far too small to offer
any scope to a man of my size.
Frustrated, and forced to abandon hope from that smelly
prison, I opened the door to face the guard and in that instant
stopped thinking and started acting.
Instead of turning towards my seat, I side-stepped the German
with the sort of manoeuvre that sometimes works wonders on the
Rugby field, and threw myself in the opposite direction. I was
across the carriage in a single bound, and, without stopping to
think how small were the chances of success (or even survival),
I flung open the main door, and jumped out into the sunshine.
Later, as I recalled the surprising violence with which sun-baked
Italy had come up to meet me, I knew why it was called hostile
After a long day in the woody bed of an erstwhile stream, the
multitude of sharp pains gave way to one all-pervading ache, and
although I still felt as if my whole body was held together by
rotting string, I knew, at least, I was now capable of hobbling
down to the peasant smallholding that I had kept under obser-
vation throughout the day. The only occupants seemed to be an
old man, a woman, and a couple of children, which was about
as harmless a combination as could be expected. Even so, a direct
approach to the house had its dangers. However, I had to have
food, drink, and a place to rest in reasonable security for a few
hours, before making any attempt to travel farther.
When day became dusk with the suddenness of southerly lati-
tudes I struggled to my feet, and limped slowly up the gentle
slope towards the farm, rehearsing all the way the short speech
carefully learned while still at Chieti. As I neared the house the
old man and the women emerged, and caught sight of me. They
stopped in their tracks, and stared at me with a look of incredulity
which swiftly froze into one of terror.
ROAD TO ROME 21
I was not prepared for this. While realizing that I was a bit
of a giant by Italian physical standards, I had overlooked the
possibility that after the battering I had received, in my leap from
the train, I might appear to be a rather fearsome giant, with
tattered, dusty shirt and bruised, bloodstained, and unshaven
Spreading out my hands to show that I concealed no weapon,
I twisted my face into what I hoped was an ingratiating smile,
and in halting Italian announced that I was British, and asked
for food and drink.
"Buona sera, signore, signora," I stammered. "Sono inglese.
Per favore, mi dia pasto, bevanda."
Their reaction frightened me. The old man's mouth and eyes
opened wide, in an expression of blank horror, and the woman
threw up her hands, closed her eyes, and emitted a shrill little
scream. Glumly I wondered what I had said.
For a moment there was silence, and then the man and the
woman faced each other, and, both talking at once, released a
stream of rapid Italian, accompanied by energetic gesticulations.
My tiny vocabulary of their language was not sufficient to give
me even the gist of what they were shouting about, but I was
becoming increasingly worried that I had blundered.
Reports from our secret radio had made it clear that the re-
lationship between the Italians and the Germans had been
strained since the fall of Mussolini's Government, and had even
suggested that the majority of the Italian people were anxious to
help the Allies, but the escape committee had always recom-
mended that this assumption should be treated with reserve, and
that escapers should avoid making direct approaches to Italians
whenever possible. I began to wish that I had followed more
closely the advice that I had helped to formulate, but it was
too late now to change my tactics. I needed food and drink,
and I was painfully aware that I was in no state to turn and
What the Italians were saying remained incomprehensible to
me, but, as the noisy minutes wore on, it seemed that they were
becoming distinctly calmer. Almost as abruptly as they had
started, the Italians stopped shouting at each other, and turned
their attention back to me without, to my surprise and relief,
any apparent hostility. Indeed, I realized that the old man was
22 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
waving to a near-by straw stack, and indicating, by a mixture of
gesture and monosyllable, that I should go and hide in it.
"Si, si, signore, grazie," I said, as soon as I got the gist of what
he was trying to tell me.
Hobbling to the stack, I hauled myself awkwardly to the top,
and lay back gratefully on the straw, but I was still by no means
sure of my hosts, and after they had gone in I watched the house
carefully, expecting every minute to see one or the other of them
setting off to the nearest village, to report my arrival. When the
two reappeared they remained together, approaching the stack,
and, with a surge of anticipatory delight, I could see that they
were bringing food. Gratefully I ate the dry bread and formaggio
SL pungent cheese made from sheep's milk which they handed
up to me, and even more gratefully I observed that their ex-
pression as they watched me was sympathetic and, indeed, almost
Much as I welcomed this apparent change of heart, I was
taken by surprise when I realized that the old man was trying
to invite me into the house for the night. I came to the conclusion
that their original fear had been that I was a German agent, who,
after inducing them to help, would denounce them, but I still
had no particular desire to go into the house. In the first place
it would put them in unnecessary peril, for while I remained out-
side they could always pretend they did not know I was there;
secondly, and more selfishly, I realized that the chance of escape
in emergency was greater from my straw stack than from within a
building with only one narrow door. The escape committee had
always advised, "Keep out of people's houses if there is any alter-
native," and, so far as I could judge, the straw stack offered a
very reasonable alternative.
"No, grazie," I replied, smiling modestly, as though to suggest
I could not possibly put them to so much trouble. They seemed
quite satisfied, smiled, bade me "Arrivederci," and retreated to
the house, bolting the door audibly behind them.
Burrowing a little into the straw, I slept. If the Italians had
wished to denounce me that night my recapture would not have
been difficult, for I was utterly exhausted. I was so stiff when I
woke that I soon realized a continuation of my journey that day
was out of the question, but I was so delighted to find myself alive
and free that I did not feel inclined to complain.
ROAD TO ROME 23
My hosts, who by now seemed to accept me as unconcernedly
as if I were just another addition to the livestock around the farm,
brought me drink and variations of pasta at intervals, and for
most of the remaining time throughout that day and the follow-
ing night I simply relaxed on the welcoming straw and slept,
trying to will myself back to fitness.
The absence of physical and even mental effort proved to be
rapidly recuperative, and when I awoke the next morning I could
feel at once that my strength had returned. I sat up, then stood,
and for the first time really surveyed my surroundings. My van-
tage-point commanded a magnificent panorama, from the roll-
ing Apennine foothills, only two or three miles away in the east,
to the distant horizon of the west, flat, and unbroken save for
occasional neat squares of olive-trees and
I narrowed my eyes, to see better through the slight morning
haze that broke the far horizon into a misty, shimmering line.
There was no doubt about it : there, in the distance, perhaps more
than fifteen miles away, only just discernible above the horizon,
yet gleaming startling white in the light of the mounting sun, was a
great, graceful dome. It was a dome which, I knew, although I
had never seen it before, had no equal in all the world. Until this
moment I had been without any clear idea of where in Italy I
was, but there could be no mistaking that spectacle it was the
majestic, soaring dome of St Peter's, Rome.
From the top of a straw stack, in a remote peasant smallhold-
ing, I was getting my first glimpse of the fabulous Eternal City.
I could not help grinning to myself at the incongruous thought
that this might be all I should ever see of it, for I intended to go
southward to war, not eastward to Rome.
Yet Fate smiled too, for within minutes she had turned my
footsteps towards Rome.
Cabbages and Colonnades
JM Y first glimpse of timeless Rome, shining in the morning sun-
light, gave me a thrill, yet I viewed the distant dome with mixed
feelings : it was an advantage to know within a few miles where
I was, but it was disturbing to be so close to the capital city of an
enemy country. I felt it would be as well to put as many miles as
possible between Rome and myself, and decided to set course
southward as soon as the daylight faded. But scarcely had I begun
to plan the excursion when there came an unexpected develop-
My Italian host and hostess suddenly appeared beside the straw
stack, beaming with excitement, and chattering away simultane-
ously, as usual, in a language of which I knew no more than a
dozen stock phrases. When at last I managed to convince them
that I did not understand they did what so many of us do under
similar circumstances : they repeated it all over again twice as
Gradually I began to understand, though by what means I am
not sure, unless it was some form of telepathy, that they were try-
ing to tell me there were other British prisoners-of-war in hiding
among the hills only a couple of miles away, and that guides could
be arranged to take me to see them. No longer suspicious about
the goodwill of the two Italians, I agreed to make the trip to the
hills, though not until nightfall. This meant that any journey to
the south would have to be deferred for at least twenty-four hours;
but the other escapers might possess more local information, and
a pooling of ideas would be all to the good.
The guides, who presented themselves at dusk, turned out to
be two engaging black-haired, brown-eyed, bronze-skinned boys,
one about eleven and the other a couple of years older, who
treated the whole enterprise as an exhilarating adventure, and
were in much better physical condition for a long walk than I
Keeping up with them as well as I could, cursing when I fell
into the ruts or tripped over stones which they nimbly and ex-
CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 25
pertly side-stepped or jumped, I followed for more than an hour
across the agricultural plain and into the foothills. Our walk
became a climb, gradually steeper and steeper, earth gave way to
rocks, the path to a barely discernible track, until suddenly I
found myself among a warren of tiny caves, staring like blind,
black eyes beneath the furrowed brow of the hill. But other eyes
were staring too the eyes of a dozen men standing around in
the gloom. It was with a slight sense of shock that I found myself
suddenly among fellow countrymen, and I lost no time in intro-
ducing myself, in case they thought I was a German or Fascist
The escapers welcomed me, bombarded me with questions
about the progress of the war, and then turned their interest to
the young guides, who were apparently well known to them.
The boys were among the helpful Italians who had been keep-
ing them supplied with food since they made for the hills.
All the escapers came from the same prison camp, P.G.54, and
had been out with farm-working-parties when Mussolini's Govern-
ment fell. Their Italian guards deserted on the spot, and
the prisoners, not unnaturally, did not bother to report back to
camp. The fact that their food supplies were coming from the
Italian families for whom they had worked had double signifi-
cance : it meant that the men had made a good impression on the
ordinary Italians, and that the Italians, in turn, were prepared
to help against the Germans, even if it entailed considerable risk.
That all the cave-dwellers wanted to rejoin their own forces
at the earliest possible moment was evident, but their plan seemed
to be to remain in the foothills, waiting for the expected Allied
advance. While I sympathized with this, I had secret doubts, for
most of the men were clad only in ragged shirts and trousers,
hardly suitable for lying around in caves as winter approached.
I realized, without much enthusiasm, that I should have to do
something about it, for I was the first officer they had seen since
their escape, and by any rule of military conduct I had to con-
sider myself in command. I could not think about my own escape
without doing something for them first. That, too, seemed to be
the view taken by the men, who kept demanding, "How do we
get back to the lines ?"
The only truthful answer would have been that I had not the
foggiest idea, but I replied, "I shall go back and see what can be
26 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
organized. Meanwhile stay where you are. Keep out of sight
during the day, and don't under any circumstances go down to
people's houses. I'll be back to-morrow."
I stumbled back down the hillside to a cheerful chorus of
British "Good nights," which was music after an age of un-
comprehended Italian, but, much as I had enjoyed talking again
in the only language which I understood, I had never felt more
alone than at this moment. I had never looked forward to my
own proposed journey south, but at least it was cnly my own skin
I was risking. To bungle the escape of a dozen others was much
more serious, for they had more to lose : prison-camp conditions
were frequently much worse for other ranks than for officers. All
my problems seemed to have been multiplied twelve-fold, and
there was no one to whom I could turn for help.
Back in the peace of the straw stack, I pondered on grouping,
timing, route, and rendezvous plans for a trek south. The last
news I had of the war was that Naples, a mere 120 miles away,
had fallen to the Allies, and I presumed that the advance was still
sweeping up the long leg of Italy at good speed. The fact was
that the advance had ground to a bloody standstill against stub-
born resistance. The Germans held a line pivoted on the fortress-
monastery of Monte Cassino, and at that moment were strengthen-
ing that line with an almost ceaseless southward flow of men and
arms. These conditions, had I known them, would have made any
proposal to link up with our own forces out of the question.
When I went back into the hills next night, to check up on the
escapers* food supplies, I was disconcerted to find that overnight
the force had doubled in size and by the next night it had
doubled again. The original dozen were by no means the only
prisoners to take advantage of the desertion of the Italian guards;
escapers from a wide area were now gradually working their way
to the relative security of the foothill caves, and, as there was no
officer among them, I found myself in command of some fifty
British soldiers, 1 20 miles behind enemy lines.
The straw stack which had been my home was now more like
an operational headquarters, for, while keeping in constant touch
with the men in the hills, I had decided that it was much better
to remain in a position where I could maintain direct contact with
the Italians. My hosts were feeding me with regularity if with
monotony for pasta is not only an acquired taste, but one that
CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 27
quickly palls on the English palate and I had made myself
comfortable by carving a small square 'room' out of the centre of
the stack, with a narrow entrance which could be easily concealed
in emergency. One way and another, it was a pretty satisfactory
billet, and there was no good reason for leaving it.
It was, however, plain that the general situation was getting
out of hand. Filtering a dozen men through a battlefield had
looked difficult, but getting fifty men back to our lines was almost
impossible. Yet, each day brought greater urgency to the problem
of what to do with them, for the amount of food finding its way
up to the hills, even at this most ample period on the farms, was
not sufficient for so large a number. There was a growing need
for medical supplies, and for additional clothing as winter, often
surprisingly severe in the Apennines, crept closer. Already there
was a distinct chill in the evenings.
All that was needed, as in most of life's little emergencies, was
money but where could a prisoner-of-war on the run lay his
hands on large sums of money by honest means? One day, think-
ing over the problem, my eyes fell upon the dome of St Peter's,
dazzling and tantalizing in the distance. Suddenly there came a
shadowy recollection of having been told long ago that one of
the oddities of the war was that in the middle of enemy Italy
there were still some official British Government representatives,
virtually prisoners in the unique neutral Vatican City. The
original British Embassy had been outside the walls of the 6 city
within a city,' but when Italy entered the war on Germany's side
it had been closed, dust-sheeted, and put under the protection of
the neutral Swiss, while a skeleton staff of British diplomats had
moved into the Vatican itself, knowing that they would never
emerge again until the war was won.
The more I thought about this, the more convinced I became
that these were the people to ask for funds. Arranging for an
appeal to reach them did not seem to be a formidable problem,
the obvious person to take a message being a priest. And in Italy,
even in a rural area, a priest is not difficult to find.
By the language of sign and gesture, my hosts agreed to bring
the village priest to see me, and he arrived the same evening. He
was a genial, alert little man, in a shabby black cassock and hat.
He had a calm, placid gaze, and exuded an atmosphere of homely
piety which invited implicit trust, and I sensed that if he did not
28 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
like my request he would reject it frankly but say no more about
it to anyone.
"Father," I asked, "is it possible for you to get a message into
He understood English, and seemed neither surprised nor per-
turbed. "Si," he nodded. "It is possible. For whom is the mes-
"Anybody English in the Vatican," I replied. His eyebrows
raised a little, but he nodded again, so I handed him the brief note
which I had already written. It was addressed "To whom it may
concern," signed "S. I. Deny, major," and, with what might have
seemed crass disregard for security, said simply that a group of
escaped Allied prisoners beyond Salonc were in urgent need of
financial assistance and clothing.
The priest took his farewell, and disappeared into the darkness.
During the next couple of days my faith wavered, and I would
not have been surprised to see a posse of German soldiers, but
as I knew I was remote from the main body of fellow-escapers,
there was no reason why my recapture should also result in theirs.
In fact, my fears were unjustified, for on the third day the
village priest returned and, with a benevolent smile, handed me a
package. It contained 3000 lire in Italian notes. I was astonished,
delighted, and probably effusive in thanking the little priest, but
he waved aside all my protestations of gratitude, and said simply,
"Please to write an acknowledgment for my superior, to say I
have given you the denaro"
I felt that I had already committed more than enough to paper,
but could hardly refuse the priest's request so I decided that I
might as well ask for some more money at the same time. Three
thousand lire represented something under ten pounds, although
it could buy goods worth twice as much if wisely spent in the
country areas. It was a welcome surprise, but it would not go far
in the provisioning of fifty men.
"Grazie," said the priest, as I handed him a scribbled note
which was a compound of receipt, expression of thanks, and beg-
ging-letter. "I will take it to the Vatican myself."
I returned to the men in the foothills, and arranged with the
N.C.O.'s the distribution and expenditure of some of the money,
instructing them to give small sums to the farm families who had
been feeding them, and to ask their Italian contacts to purchase
CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 29
second-hand clothing to meet urgent needs. I reckoned that with the
low cost of food in the country area, there was money enough to
ensure that none of the hospitable farm families would be heavily
out of pocket for what they had done, and after the success of
this first experiment I hoped that the financial position of our
little organization would be sufficiently healthy to prevent any
hardship in the near future.
Just four days after his previous visit the village priest returned
to my hide-out, and handed me another 4000 lire.
"Grazie, grazie," I said delightedly. "Would you like another
receipt for your superior ?"
"No," replied the priest, looking me straight in the eye. 'This
time he would like you to go to Rome yourself."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"My superior wishes to see you personally. You will, per favore,
go to Rome?"
"If it is possible, yes. May I ask who is your superior?" But
the priest replied evasively, and instead told me that he would
help me to get to the Vatican.
In fact, the prospect did not dismay me as much as it would
have done a week or two earlier. When I first took up residence
in the straw stack the thought of finding my way, alone and
friendless, into the capital city, would have been formidable, but
since then I had learned a good deal about the Italian rural scene.
The peasants working smallholdings in the plain below the Apen-
nines regularly travelled to Rome by pony cart, to sell their vege-
tables and fruit at the inflated prices obtainable in the city
markets. Nevertheless, the idea of going voluntarily into Rome
was on a par with clambering back on to the prison-train, and
but for maintaining the supply of money which had now begun
to flow towards the foothills fifty, I would have shied away from
the suggestion. However, there was litde choice in the matter, and
I was grateful for the priest's offer of assistance.
He wasted no time in arranging for a smallholder named Pietro
Fabri, who drove his pony cart into Rome two or three times
every week, to pick me up early one November morning. Well
on the chilly side of dawn we jogged off to Rome, and all I knew
was that I was to be guided by my companion to a rendezvous
that had been arranged. If anything went wrong I should be in
a perilous position, alone in the middle of an alien city, with no
3O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
idea of where I was supposed to be going, and unable to ask the
way even if I had known.
Pietro Fabri, who was accompanied by one of his host of bare-
footed daughters, was a gay, bucolic son of the soil. On the long
journey down secondary roads he burst into song occasionally,
swore frequently at the plodding pony, and chattered a good deal,
apparently unperturbed by my failure to understand a word, and
quite satisfied if I grinned at him, and nodded once in a while.
I cannot think that he made a habit of smuggling people past the
road-blocks into Rome, yet he was clearly less concerned than
I was, and seemed happy to have me sitting beside him and his
daughter, in front of a mountain of cabbages and in full view of
any early risers who happened to be about.
Fascinated, I sat and watched the domes of Rome, dominated
always by the white giant of St Peter's, creeping closer in the
thin light of dawn. But before we reached the outskirts of the city
Pietro motioned to me to take cover, as one of the check-points
established by the Germans and their Fascist collaborators on all
roads leading into Rome lay just around the next corner.
I wriggled downward through a sea of cabbages, felt Pietro
and his daughter adjust the pile above me, and heard his whis-
pered, "Silenzio, signore." Unable to see anything, and almost
suffocated by the pungent smell, I felt completely cut off from the
world, but as the rickety wobbling of the cart ceased, I knew that
we had reached the road-block. I could hear the murmur of
Pietro's voice and others, disconcertingly close to my ears, through
the deafening creaking of the cabbage-leaves every time I
breathed. I was nearly choking, but dared not breathe deeply
for fear of causing a telltale rise and fall in the pile of cabbages,
and could not pant because of the noise it would make. Every
second I expected to feel the sharp prod of an inquisitive bayonet.
It was an enormous relief when at last I felt the wheels begin
to turn again, with no bayonet thrusts, and no rummaging among
the load Pietro, apparently, was well known to all the guards.
But I was still suffering from claustrophobia, had no idea how
long I was to subsist beneath the cabbages, and prayed that it
would not be too long. The cart rumbled on for an age before a
whispered "Venga, venga" (Come, come) enabled me to emerge
from my sweaty green confinement and take a grateful gulp of
CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 3!
"Buon giorno, signore!" grinned Pietro, as I sat again upon
the cabbages, which for so long had sat on me.
"And a very good morning to you," I replied in English, scrap-
ing an affectionate caterpillar from my hair.
I was rather surprised, though well pleased, that Pietro should
have called me from hiding before we reached whatever was to
be our destination, for I could see that we were still on the out-
skirts of the city. I did not know then that Rome, for its popula-
tion, is a compact city. Bounded for centuries by its long, strong
walls, it does not straggle out into hideous suburbs in aU direc-
tions, as do so many of the capitals of the world. I was glad to be
sitting out in the open again, for I did not feel that the need to
avoid attracting attention justified a prolonged incarceration
among the cabbages, and in my present shabby condition I was
unlikely to draw a second glance so long as I remained with
Pietro and the cart.
Moreover, I wanted to see as much of Rome as I could, for I
presumed that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime visit, and the
great white dome of St Peter's now generally hidden behind the
near buildings, and at close quarters not white at all, but a gentle,
mellow grey had been beckoning me and tantalizing me for
weeks. As it happened, the Rome through which Pietro drove me
was much like any other Italian town, with narrow pavements set
immediately against long, flat, pastel-coloured fagades studded
with shuttered windows; only a fleeting glimpse of a towering
gate, and part of the great stone wall of the ancient city, served as
a reminder that this was the birthplace of much of what is called
Pietro Fabri halted his pony cart in a side street used as an open-
air market by peasants from the surrounding country, clambered
down from his perch, and, leaving his daughter to look after the
pony, bade me follow him. Feeling like a lone English tourist, and
trying not to look like one, I walked beside him through two or
three small streets just beginning to wake up to face a new day.
Passing workmen bade each other good morning, shaking hands
vigorously, as though they had not met for years, although the
chances were that they had caroused together in some caf only
the previous evening. I had not walked in the streets of any town
or city for more than a year and a quarter, and everything seemed
32 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
"A destra," said Retro suddenly, turning to the right. "Venga
con me." He clumped through the open doors of a tall, drab
building, led me across a deserted tiled hall, and up a stone stair-
way flanked by an iron balustrade. On the first floor he stopped
at an apartment door, and rang the bell. The door swung open
to reveal a small, greasy man of early middle age, wearing the
long black cassock of a priest, who smiled toothily, stood back
to allow us to enter, and closed the door behind us. We were in
the hall of a small flat, and Pietro and the stranger were already
engaged in rapid conversation. They obviously knew each other
well, but Pietro did not treat the other man with the reverence
usually accorded by Italians to priests, and although the man in
the cassock kept his face turned towards Pietro, his eyes were on
me. I found him difficult to assess, for there was something about
him that I did not quite like; he seemed altogether too smooth,
and completely devoid of the simple piety that shone like a beacon
from the village priest who had sent me.
Pietro indicated that the man's name was Pasqualino Perfetti,
but the latter seemed to know mine already. The rather vague
introduction complete, Pietro, with a cheery "A presto," departed,
leaving me without any idea of when or where I was to see him
Perfetti took me by the arm into a room where I was con-
fronted by a heavier-built man of about the same age, but wear-
ing a conventional civilian suit. Spreading an oily palm towards
him, Perfetti announced, "Aldo Zambardi."
"Buon giorno, capitano," said Zambardi, gripping my hand
and peering up at me, and then in good English, "I have been
sent here to meet you. Did the money from the Vatican arrive
I nodded, thinking that perhaps I had come all this way, at the
parish priest's request, simply to report in person the safe arrival
of the 4000 lire. Nevertheless, it was difficult to believe that either
of the two rather shifty-looking men with me now were the honest
little priest's anonymous 'superior. 5 I was just beginning to feel
a sense of anticlimax when, after a pause, Zambardi said some-
thing that startled me. "Now we have to go to the Vatican," he
announced, in matter-of-fact tones. "It is a long way, but we
shall take a tram."
I probably stared at him, and then looked down at my tattered
CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 33
shirt, the worn battlcdress trousers, dyed a streaky blue with
ordinary ink, and the desert boots, which had been cut down into
Zambardi took my meaning, and, taking off his own overcoat,
handed it over, and spoke quickly to the man in the cassock, who
rummaged around to produce a pair of flannel trousers and a
I changed then and there, and the result was rather bizarre.
The trousers flapped above my ankles, the coat did not reach
my knees, and the little cap sat quaintly on top of my head. How-
ever, the two Italians seemed satisfied with the transformation,
so there was no reason why I should complain, and I set off with
Zambardi down the street, knowing that at least I looked nothing
whatever like an English officer.
Before we left Zambardi warned me that I was not to talk to
him or show any sign of recognition once we got outside, and that
on the tram I should pretend to doze in order to avoid being
drawn into conversation with other passengers. The two-coach
tram was pretty full, but Zambardi, pushing as heartily as all the
other intending passengers, elbowed me aboard, bought a couple
of tickets, shoved me forcibly into a seat, sat down heavily beside
me before anyone else could cut in, and stared studiously into
The other passengers included some in German or Fascist uni-
forms and jackboots, so I tried to make myself small, and in no
time let my head sag in a simulated doze, as advised.
There was a droll humour in the situation : I had first seen
Rome from the top of a straw stack, I had entered it covered with
cabbages, and now, dressed like a music-hall comedian, I was
getting my first glimpse of its eternal glories from a crowded tram
through half-closed eyes. After the drabness of the desert, the
confinement of the prison camp, and the isolation of the straw
stack, nothing would have been more satisfying than to stare
around at the wonderfully preserved symbols of an empire of
two thousand years ago. But every time I raised an eyelid I was
brought sharply back to the present, for the pavements were
speckled with the forbidding field-grey of German uniforms.
Rome was completely dominated by the Germans, who had
marched in and taken over the city, lock, stock, and barrel, after
the fall of Mussolini's dictatorship.
34 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
The tram was brought to a stop a dozen times, and every time
I feared it was a security check. Quite apart from my lack of
Italian, I had no documents of any sort, so the chances of emerg-
ing from even the most cursory check were nil. No wonder Zam-
bari insisted that we should pretend to be unacquainted. Eventu-
ally, as the brakes scraped on again, I felt a sharp nudge in the
side, and, looking up, saw that my companion was already half-
way down the car. I rose hurriedly, and followed, jumping from
the tram just before it started away again.
Now, for the first time, I could see something of Rome. We had
stopped beside the Ponte Vittoria Emanuele, possibly the most
spectacular of Rome's seventeen bridges across the Tiber, with its
three great arches, and eight triumphal pillars reaching up from
the balustrades. On the far bank, just to the right of where we
were walking across the bridge, was the round grey Castel Sant'
Angelo, built by Hadrian as a mausoleum, but for fifteen centuries
the fortress of Rome, and ahead of us, its noble f agaric still partly
obscured by the buildings of the Via della Conciliazione, was the
greatest church in Christendom. Spellbound, I crossed the
northern embankment roadway behind the trotting Zambardi,
and turned into Via della Conciliazione, once a solid block of
shops and caf& with a narrow street on either side, but long since
swept clear by Mussolini, to form a tremendous diverging avenue
leading straight from the Tiber to St Peter's. It was a breathtaking
sight. It is common knowledge that everything about St Peter's
is on the vast scale, but until that moment, when the war seemed
far away, I had never realized the colossal majesty of this church,
which took the whole of the sixteenth and three-quarters of the
seventeenth century to build.
As we reached the wide entrance to the enormous circular St
Peter's Square, my eyes travelled down 400 feet from the top of
the dome and I came back to earth in another sense with a
shock. Apart from priests and nuns, the great piazza was full
of German soldiers, several armed and on some sort of sentry
duty. Between me and the great gates of the Vatican, on either
side of the cathedral f agade, there was a hornets' nest.
I continued to follow the silent Zambardi, keeping my gaze
firmly at ground level, careful to avoid catching the eye of the
German soldiers who passed too close for my liking. Ahead of
us, almost in the shadow of the noble colonnade that curved right
CABBAGES AND COLONNADES 35
round both sides of the piazza, I could see a very tall, lone figure,
wearing a long black robe of a priest. He was standing with his
hands folded in front of him, and his head slightly bowed, as
though in prayer, yet I had the feeling that he was watching our
Zambardi went straight towards the tall priest, who flashed
a quick glance at me, and turned on his heel. In that momentary
glance I caught an impression of piercing blue eyes behind simple
steel spectacles, and of a strong, humorous mouth. And, as he
turned abruptly away, I heard him speak in a delightful lilting
brogue, but in unmistakable English. "Follow me a short dis-
tance behind," was all he said.
It was all so rapid that Zambardi and I had barely slowed
our stride; we kept on walking as though we had no connexion
with the tall cleric, who now strode before us. I followed obedi-
ently, but noticed with a twinge of alarm that we turned, not to-
wards the great gates of the Vatican, but through the colonnade
itself, and walked away from the piazza and into a narrow side
After covering a couple of hundred yards, the priest turned
into a wide arched entrance, which appeared to be some sort of
porter's lodge. From the shadow of the archway we passed into
the intimate sunlight of a small, secluded square, flanked by
solemn stone buildings, and crossed to a massive doorway on the
As we passed through the portico I glanced casually upward
at the inscription over the door, and as I read it I felt myself go
cold. I knew little enough Italian, but there was no mistaking the
meaning of that inscription : Collegia Teutonicum the German
Two Tall Monsignors
THE last thing I could have foreseen, when setting off from the
straw stack in the morning, was that I should walk voluntarily into
some sort of German establishment. But there was little I could do
except follow the tall priest dumbly, with a mixture of resignation
and curiosity gaining the upper hand over fear and suspicion.
The priest led the way into a small, sparsely-furnished ground-
floor office, next to a porter's room, and, after a quick grin at
me, he opened a lengthy exchange of Italian with Zambardi.
"Now, me boy," he said, turning to me at last, "we'll go up
to my room but we're leaving Aldo now, so you had better give
him his coat back."
I did so, and thanked Zambardi warmly, though with the sus-
picion that I was thanking him for leading me into a trap. Then,
still bewildered, I accompanied the priest up two steep flights of
stairs, along a dim corridor, and into a small study, one end of
which was concealed completely behind two long curtains. The
rest of the room contained a wash-basin, a desk, with a couple
of well-filled golf-bags propped casually behind it, a radio-set in
one corner, a sofa, and a couple of easy chairs. There appeared
to be nobody else in it.
"Now you'll be all right you can talk here," said the priest,
and promptly plied me with some biscuits, which I accepted
gratefully, but which made talking difficult, rather to my relief
because I wanted him to make the opening gambit.
"I got your receipt for the money," he said, as I munched.
"Did you get the second lot all right? But, of course, you must
have done, or you wouldn't be here."
"So it was you who sent it, Father ?" I asked.
He nodded, and asked me about the men I had left in the
hills. I answered fairly cagily at first, but my host made up for
my reticence by his own frank willingness to talk and within
minutes any illusion that most of the escaped Britons in Italy
were in my care was shattered.
"There are a good many groups like yours around here," he
TWO TALL MONSIONORS 37
said. "Hundreds and hundreds of prisoners simply walked out
when the Italian guards deserted, and now they are in hiding all
over the countryside, most in pretty bad need of more food and
clothing. As a matter of fact, we even have some chaps here in
I wanted to know what he meant by "we," and a dozen ques-
tions occurred to me, but, sensing my thoughts, he said, "It is a
long story, and you will pick it all up soon enough. Meanwhile
how about a nice warm bath ?"
As I had not so much as seen a bath since on leave in Cairo,
nearly a year and a half previously, I accepted with relish. My
host, who had observed our similarity in size and build, rum-
maged around, produced a handful of his own clothing, and
escorted me to a bathroom a short distance down the deserted
corridor. "Take your time, me boy," he said, as he closed the
door. "Come back to my room when you're ready and don't
get lost on the way."
In a glow of heavenly cleanliness, dressed in the priest's under-
clothes and smoking-jacket, Perfetti's trousers and my own shirt,
I listened cautiously at the door before I ventured into the cor-
ridor again, but everything was wrapped in a calm ecclesiastical
silence. I made my way along the corridor, and knocked softly
at the priest's door. There was no reply. I knocked again, a little
more loudly, and then, fearful of attracting unwelcome attention,
tried the handle gently. The door opened smoothly, and I slipped
inside. There seemed to be nothing to do except wait and see, but
still half fearful that I had been led into a Nazi trap, I took a
peep to see what lay behind the curtains at the end of the room.
There was nothing but a simple narrow bed. Keeping well back
in the room, I tried to see what lay outside; the view from the
single large window behind the desk was almost filled with the
vast bulk of St Peter's, but to the left, extending from the college
in which I was either guest or prisoner, was a series of elegant
stone buildings, squares and gardens, enclosing and disappearing
behind the great sacristry, which projected from the southern wall
of the cathedral. All these were part of the Vatican, and linked
with the building in which I stood, yet it was puzzling that I had
entered here from an ordinary street in German-occupied Rome,
without challenge from either military sentries or Vatican guards.
It did not add up.
38 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
I was still pondering when the sound of a hand on the latch
caused me to swing round sharply to face the door. It opened
softly, but not secretively, to reveal a stocky, dark-haired man of
early middle age, wearing a neat black coat and pin-striped
trousers, and carrying a small black-leather brief-case under one
"Major Deny, I believe?" he said, with a charming smile, and
offered his hand. He was completely English in appearance, and
his accent carried a trace of the Londoner,
"Yes," I replied doubtfully, taking his hand. "And you?"
He grinned, and instead of answering, he opened his brief-
case to produce a large packet of cigarettes and a welcome
"We've been expecting you," he said. "I thought you would
be glad of these to celebrate your safe arrival."
I tried to express my gratitude, and decided I should have to
accept, for the time being, the situation in which everybody knew
me and I knew nobody. He asked a good many questions about
myself and the party in the hills, and I answered with some re-
serve, uncertain how this obvious Englishman could fit into the
picture. Most of my own questions, however innocuously worded,
were adroitly side-stepped, and I was no nearer an explanation of
my surroundings when the door opened again, and the tall priest
"Oh, good John's here!" he exclaimed, and, turning to me,
he beamed. "This is John May. He is the man who will look
after you, and tell you everything." For a few minutes the three
of us spoke together, but only in the most general terms about
the war. Then the priest asked to be excused, and, as suddenly
as he reappeared, strode out through the door again. I looked
blankly at the man named John May, and asked, "Does this go
on all the time?"
"Pretty nearly," he laughed. "He's an official of the Holy
Office, and he has a little office downstairs, where people are in
and out to see him all the time. Never seems to rest but I expect
you'll get used to that, eventually. A wonderful character, the
"Our Irish friend the Right Reverend Monsignor Hugh
TWO TALL MONSIGNORS 39
"Oh, dear," I said. "That sounds damned important and
I Ve been calling him 'Father' all this time."
"Never mind," said John May. "The monsignor would be the
last person in the world to worry about that. But you're quite
right he is an important chap, and you really ought to call him
'monsignor.' He's been at the Vatican since 1922, and seems
to know everybody in Rome. Everybody knows Monsignor
OTlaherty and, what's more important, they all adore him."
I was beginning to understand why. And since my companion
seemed more prepared to accept me, and not parry questions, I
wondered if he knew what sort of British organization remained
in existence behind the walls of the Vatican.
Nodding towards the window, I asked if there was still a British
Ambassador in there.
"Not quite," said John May. "We no longer have an Am-
bassador in Rome, but there is a British Minister to the Holy See,
with a small legation inside the city walls which reminds me, I
must get back to my duties. As a matter of fact, I am the Minister's
With that he was gone, and all I now knew was that I was
the guest of an Irish monsignor and an English butler in a Ger-
The fact that the name over the portico was no mere archaic
title was brought home to me when the monsignor returned with
an invitation to join him at his desk for lunch. The meal was
brought in and served by two nuns, who were obviously German,
and spoke in the language that I associated with jack-booted
guards. However, they were very subdued in the presence of the
monsignor, speaking only when spoken to, and the barley soup
and spaghetti they served, though plain and simple, was the best
I had eaten for many months. The monsignor watched my enjoy-
ment of the meal with sympathy and delight, and it was only with
difficulty that I was able to persuade him to eat his own meal in-
stead of giving it to me. After the nuns had left I asked point-
blank, "Monsignor, are we in the Vatican ?"
The monsignor leaned back in his chair, and emitted a great,
rich laugh. "Has that been bothering you?" he chuckled. "I
suppose the only accurate answer is 'yes and no. 9 This college,
like a good many other places, is extra-territorial property : it be-
longs to the Holy See, and forms no part of the Italian State, but
4O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
it is outside the Vatican City, and, as you know, it leads out on to
the streets of Rome. The military authorities have left us alone so
far, though I wouldn't put it past them to raid us one day. You
are pretty safe here, but not as secure, of course, as a few of your
friends who got into the Vatican City itself early on they are in-
terned for the duration. The Vatican is a neutral State, you know."
"But this place it's German, isn't it ?"
"Yes, so it is," he grinned. "Almost everybody in it is Ger-
man, but don't let that worry you, me boy this is not part of
the Wehrmacht. All the same, I don't think we should advertise
too extensively that you are an English officer."
Before I had time to find out more he excused himself, and
dashed off again to his office, but, in view of his last remark, I
was startled on his return, half an hour later, by his next words.
"Blon, I thought you would like to meet this British major."
Disconcerted and slightly embarrassed, I found myself looking
into the dark eyes of a staggeringly attractive brunette about nine-
teen years old. "Miss Blon Kiernan Major Deny," the mon-
signor beamed. "I thought it would be nice if you two met."
The girl greeted me charmingly in English, and although I
was quickly becoming accustomed to the unexpected visitors to
this remarkable room, I was still surprised enough to ask, "How
do you happen to be here ?"
"Coming from you, that's rich," she laughed. "Don't you know
there's a war on? As a matter of fact, I'm neutral my father is
the Irish Ambassador."
Blon Kiernan and the monsignor chatted about mutual
acquaintances, and it was clear that the monsignor was a frequent
visitor to the Irish Embassy. They both tried, graciously and
charmingly, to keep me abreast of the conversation, but I was
content to sit and listen, uncomprehendingly; I could not re-
member when I had last heard casual English small talk, and had
the feeling that I had drifted right out of the war into the gay,
peaceful, social life of some never-never land.
When the dark Irish girl went out of the room, and, so I pre-
sumed, out of my life, the monsignor went with her, and I sat
alone again, thinking it would be rather fun to have a sweep-
stake on who would come through the door next. It turned out
to be John May, which was not particularly surprising, but what
he said took me off balance.
TWO TALL MONSIONORS 41
"I have had a talk with the Minister about you," he said
chattily, "and he would like you and the monsignor to join him
for dinner at the Legation to-night."
Fortunately, Monsignor O'Flaherty reappeared through the
door, and, learning of the Minister's invitation, at once accepted.
He and John May sorted out the timing and other details before
turning any attention to what I considered the principal problem
namely, getting me into the Vatican.
"It is easy enough to get into the Vatican without being cap-
tured by the Germans," confided the monsignor, "but the diffi-
culty is we want to get you out again. If you are caught by the
Vatican Guards or gendarmes you will either be interned for the
duration or immediately expelled into the arms of the Germans."
"You know," said John May, looking from one to the other
thoughtfully, "it is surprising how alike you two are in size and
The monsignor's face wreathed into a cherubic smile, and,
with a hand on John May's shoulder, he bade him farewell with
the words, "We'll be there."
Early that evening two figures, each topping six feet, stood
and surveyed each other across the little room. "Not at all bad,
me boy," said the monsignor approvingly. "You look more like
a monsignor than I do."
He had changed into the dress worn by monsignors only on
formed social occasions: low-crowned black hat, long black
cloak, with scarlet buttons all the way down the front, a vivid
scarlet sash and silver-buckled black shoes. As he inspected me,
he might almost have been looking into a full-length mirror, for
I was dressed identically, the monsignor having produced a
duplicate of every garment.
"Now, leave everything to me," he said. "Walk beside me,
but don't speak or look about you at all. Walk slowly, keep your
head bowed, and mumble constantly in prayer. If you don't know
any prayers keep your lips moving anyway."
Together we walked slowly down the stairs, out into the court-
yard, through the archway, and along the street towards the
colonnade, where we turned left towards the great church. Al-
though I was obediently keeping my head down and my eyes
low, I was acutely aware of the majesty of the great columns,
each ten feet across, soaring more than sixty feet up to a vaulted
42 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
roof, and set so far apart that a couple of coaches could have
driven abreast down any of the curving avenues. I was also aware
of the grey-uniformed German soldiers hovering about the vast
square, and in my unfamiliar clothing I felt that all their eyes
must have been upon me; to walk slowly, and apparently placidly,
along the colonnade was a test of self-discipline.
The colossal columns crawled past, and I sensed, rather than
observed, the Swiss Guards, now no longer in their picturesque
costumes of yellow slashed with blue and red, but in forbidding
war-service uniforms. Quivering inside my cassock, I concen-
trated on praying, and at that moment my prayers were fervent
As we passed through the gate the guards looked at us, but
with no more than casual interest. No doubt monsignors lost in
their devotions were a familiar sight to them, and in any case
they probably recognized at once the long-familiar figure of my
The first hurdle was crossed, but I still kept my head well
down as we crossed the square, where once part of Nero's circus
had stood, and where the first Christian martyrs, including St
Peter himself, had sacrificed their lives. We passed the lofty
walls of the sacristry, visible from the monsignor's window, and
reached the limit beyond which no ordinary pilgrim to Rome is
As we approached the dangerous comer where the Vatican
gendarmerie maintained their vigil night and day, I wondered
how the audacious impersonation could possibly succeed. Luck
was with us, however, for as we passed within a couple of feet
or so, the formidable gendarmerie snapped to attention, and
saluted. I pretended to be lost in my prayers, but I noticed that
the real monsignor acknowledged the salute with a slight nod of
We walked slowly on through little squares and passages, and
I realized that although we were still separated by the great
edifice of the church from the main palace of the Vatican, this
really was a city within a city; everywhere the yellow-and-white
flag, with its insignia of tiara and crossed keys, reminded me that
in the midst of war I was now on neutral soil. Silently we walked
into an austere four-storey building, crossed the hall, and entered
a small passenger-lift. Monsignor O'Flaherty pressed the button
TWO TALL MONSIONORS 43
for the topmost floor, and, as the lift started to climb, turned to
me and smiled.
"That wasn't so difficult, was it, me boy? 3 ' he asked. "This
is the place we want. The Vatican still uses the ground floor for
offices, but the refugee legations from Poland, France, and Eng-
land have the rest of the building now."
At the top we emerged into a small passage, and the mon-
signor guided me to a door at the end. He pressed the bell, and
the door was opened by an Italian footman, who bowed and
admitted us into a lofty and immensely long corridor, along which
I could see approaching the familiar figure of John May. Grin-
ning at the sight of me, he ushered us into the first room on the
right, which was comfortably furnished as a drawing-room, and
pressed a White Lady cocktail into my hand before he went off
to appraise the Minister of the arrival of his guests. The genuine
monsignor refused a cocktail; he never drank, and, in fact, despite
the tasteful smoking-jacket he had lent me, he never smoked
either, although he was completely tolerant of the indulgence of
The British Minister turned out to be so like my preconceived
idea of the perfect English diplomat that the impression of
theatrical unreality, which had pervaded all my experiences that
day, was heightened. Sir Francis D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne,
calm and quietly courteous, left me at once with the feeling that
there was no crisis in the world which could shake, even momen-
tarily, his unruffled poise, no series of calamities through which
he could not walk steadily, smoothing chaos into orderliness.
Seldom have I met any man in whom I had such immediate
confidence. He welcomed us warmly, yet I found it impossible to
behave with anything but strict formality. Apart from the re-
straining influence of my clothing, I was almost overwhelmed by
an atmosphere of old-world English courtliness and grace, which
I had thought belonged only to the country-house parties of long
ago. Sir D'Arcy was spry, trim, a young sixty, but he had spent
years enough in the diplomatic service to develop an astonishing
aptitude for creating around himself an aura of all that was most
civilized in English life. I felt as though I had returned home after
long travels, to find that royalty had come to dinner, and I had
to be on my best behaviour.
If a monarch had descended on the dinner party that night
44 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
he would have found little to criticize. A large circular table,
set with fine linen, gleaming silver, and glistening glass, seemed to
my prison-camp jaded eyes a picture from a world of fantasy.
A footman prepared the dishes at a sideboard, and John
May served us with grapefruit, a tender steak, with mushrooms,
grilled tomatoes, and more trimmings than I remembered existed,
and a delicious, unidentifiable, creamy sweet, and cheese. The
Minister and the monsignor spoke inconsequentially to each other,
mainly about people known to them both, but, with immense
tact, refrained from involving me in long discussions likely to dis-
tract me from the full enjoyment of a meal which at any time
I should have considered extremely good, and which at that par-
ticular moment seemed like something out of the kitchens of
As we dawdled over the cheese the Minister asked me how the
fall of Mussolini had been received by our men in the prison
camps, and in turn told me how the Germans, with a couple of
divisions, had managed to take over Rome, which the new Italian
'republic* had claimed to be defending with very considerable
forces. From Sir D'Arcy, I learned that Rome was now, to all
intents and purposes, just another German-occupied capital, with
the only difference that there was still a residual Italian Fascist
element actively co-operating with the Military Government.
Over the coffee and cigarettes in the drawing-room, many of
the questions which had been buzzing around in my brain all
day found their answers. As I had begun to suspect, there was
already in existence the shadow of an underground organization
working for the welfare of Allied escapers and evaders, and it
was intended that I should be brought into it. Many of the de-
tails I was not to learn until several weeks later, but as we talked
late into the night I began to secure a grasp of the immensity and
complexity of the problem. Most of the story of what had already
been done was not revealed until after Monsignor O'Flaherty had
left us, promising to return for me the next day, for it transpired
that it was this remarkable cleric who had done the greater part
The monsignor, I gathered, first came into contact with Allied
prisoners-of-war as early as 1941, when he was appointed secre-
tary-interpreter to the Papal Nuncio, whom he accompanied on
tours of camps all over northern Italy. The Papal Nuncio
TWO TALL MONSIGNORS 45
travelled in fairly leisurely fashion by car, visiting one camp a
day, but Monsignor O'Flaherty soon found himself travelling by
train between camp and Rome every night, because he quickly
formed the view that one of the duties of the Church was to
ensure that information should be sent to the next of kin of newly
captured prisoners as soon as possible. His incessant train journeys
enabled up-to-date lists of names to be broadcast promptly by
Vatican Radio, and he also took upon himself the task of speed-
ing up the delivery of Red Cross parcels to the prisoners, apart
from personally collecting more than ten thousand books, which
he distributed around the camps.
His persistent championing of the cause of prisoners-of-war
eventually proved irksome to the Italian Government, and around
Christmas 1942 he was asked for his resignation, as the result of
Fascist pressure. Back in Rome he became a sort of rallying-
point for the underdog; Jews and anti-Fascists who were in danger
turned to him for help, and he found places for them to hide,
secreting one or two including a glamorous Italian princess
in the German College itself.
The Vatican City authorities, saddled for the duration with
half a dozen Allied escaped prisoners-of-war, who had got past
the guards, sensed the danger of becoming a Mecca for escapers,
and gave orders that all would-be internees should be forcibly
expelled at the gates. The first fourteen to suffer this fate all
avoided recapture and had the good fortune to be put in touch
with the monsignor. He arranged for them to be housed, under
the care of a friendly carabiniere, actually in the Italian police
barracks, but when the Germans marched into Rome on Sep-
tember 14, 1943, the Italians fled, and all the escapers except one
Meanwhile the desertion of the Italian guards at camps all
around the city had enabled hundreds of prisoners to get away,
and many were now beginning to arrive in Rome, mostly in the
hope of getting into the neutral Vatican. Some had been directed
by friendly priests to the monsignor's office, some turned up at
the neutral Swiss Legation, and some contacted Secundo Con-
stantini, the Swiss caretaker at the dust-sheeted British Embassy.
The monsignor, bombarded from all sides by calls for assistance,
mobilized the help of many Vatican priests, including Irishmen,
New Zealanders, and Maltese, in organizing lodgings for the
46 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
escapers, but his financial difficulties would have been consider-
able except for an unexpected gift of money from an anti-Fascist
nobleman, Prince Doria Pamphili. There were plenty of risks,
and even picking up the money proved something of a problem,
for the Prince's house was raided by the S.S. while the monsignor
was there. He had to make his escape disguised as a coalman,
his face blackened, and his clerical robes in a sack over his
shoulder, but fortunately the Germans never thought to ask them-
selves why a coalman should be carrying a full sack out of the
As the number of escapers seeking help steadily increased,
Monsignor OTlaherty realized that some sort of organization had
to be established, and thus it was that a Council of Three came
into being. It consisted of the monsignor, with contacts through
innumerable priests, who brought the escapers in, and found
paces for them to stay; Count Sarsfield Salazar, who was with
the Swiss Legation, and knew of approaches for help made to the
Swiss or to Secundo Constantini at the closed British Embassy;
and John May, who not only provided a direct link with the
British Minister, but had contacts all over Rome, and always
knew where the black-market supplies of food or clothing could
The Council of Three decided to find somewhere for the
accommodation of escapers as soon as they arrived in Rome, for
the men were usually conspicuous because of their tattered clothes,
and were often in poor physical condition. One of the monsignor's
priests found the answer to the immediate problem at 12 Via
Impera, the home of a vivacious, motherly Maltese widow, Mrs
Henrietta Chevalier. In her small flat she lived with her six
daughters and one son, but she was delighted with the idea of
looking after a few of c our boys 5 as well. With the best will in the
world, however, she could not accommodate many, and, with
the influx of escapers still expanding, Monsignor O'Flaherty de-
cided that he would have to rent a flat of his own, where reason-
ably large numbers could stay until permanent billets were found
for them. It delighted his sense of humour when he found what
he wanted in the Via Firenze, for it was in a block backing on the
hotel used as the S.S. headquarters, and was consequently well
within the S.S. curfew cordon; however, he realized that this
might have a practical advantage, since the Germans, if they be-
came suspicious that escaped prisoners were being hidden in
Rome, would scarcely begin searching so close to their own
Still the demands on the resources of the Council of Three
increased as more and more escapers found their way into the
city, often guided by well-meaning priests. Unfortunately, many
of these did not realize that it was now impossible for the men to
give themselves up for internment at the Vatican, and that the
Germans had imposed the death penalty for the harbouring of
escapers and evaders a development of which the German-con-
trolled Rome Radio was daily reminding the inhabitants of the
Monsignor OTlaherty rented another flat, this time in the
fashionable Via Chelini, about a mile away from Via Firenze,
and obtained supplies of money from the British Minister in the
Vatican. But it was clear that the organization was a snowball
that threatened to engulf the monsignor. More and more escapers
were pouring into Rome, Count Salazar's 'country branch' was
developing with alarming speed, and new requests for help were
being brought in daily by village priests, from groups scattered
about the rural area.
The monsignor kept in close touch with the British Minister,
and both agreed that a complete underground military organiza-
tion was required, but the difficulty was that among all the
escapers with whom they were in contact there was no senior
British officer who could take command, and the Minister himself,
virtually a prisoner in his legation, and in any case in a delicate
diplomatic situation, could give little direct help.
"Your note signed 'S. I. Deny, major/ was the first contact
we had made with a senior British officer," Sir D'Arcy told me.
"When the monsignor saw that in one breath you had thanked
him for the money and asked him for more he was highly amused,
and decided on die spot that you were the man to take control
of the organization. That is why we sent for you.
"I must tell you that I consider the monsignor's efforts have
been absolutely wonderful, but he feels, and I agree, that the time
has come now when we must appoint somebody to co-ordinate all
the work. It will not be easy, and I am afraid it is likely to get
more difficult as time goes on. Now that you know what it is all
about, are you prepared to take command ?"
48 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
There was only one possible answer. In the ordinary way I
might have been overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy for the
task, but after the stagnation of prison-camp life the chance to
do something active again was irresistible.
"Of course, sir," I replied. "But you realize I don't speak any
Italian ? Won't that complicate things a bit ?"
"Very probably, major," said the Minister, "but I am sure you
will find a way round that difficulty and if you don't the mon-
signor will. You will need to lean on him rather heavily, I'm
afraid, particularly in the early stages, but you have no doubt
already come to the conclusion that he is a pretty remarkable
man. I imagine you will not come across many problems that
you and he together cannot solve."
I was still not at all clear about exactly what I was supposed
to do, but the Minister brushed aside questions of detail, and said
that all specific plans could be worked out later. I asked him when
he wanted me to start, and told him that I felt I ought to return
first to my own group near Salone, so that they would not be left
with the impression that I had simply gone away on my own, and
let them down.
"That is what I hoped you would do," said Sir D'Arcy. He
told me he would arrange with the monsignor for me to be taken
back for a day or two, during which time I was to place the most
reliable N.C.O. in charge, and organize the distribution and ex-
penditure of some money that he would give me.
That night, in a proper bed for the first time in eighteen months,
I should have gone to sleep as soon as my head touched the pillow,
but for an hour or more I lay revelling in the unaccustomed com-
fort, and musing on my good fortune. When I awoke next morn-
ing I still felt as though I was in a dream, for there was a smiling
John May beside the bed, with an appetizing breakfast on a tray.
All this, I thought, and breakfast in bed too. I felt in the lap of
luxury as I ate my boiled egg, toast, and marmalade, as I relaxed
comfortably in another hot bath, and as I tried on some stylish
clothes of the Minister's, which John May had laid out for me.
The Minister was slightly shorter, and a good deal more slender
in build, than I, but I found to my delight that I could wear the
shirts, socks, pullover, smart blue suit, and shoes which he had
provided, without discomfort or apparent absurdity; I also noticed
with ironic amusement that the excellent shoes came from a shop
TWO TALL MONSIGNORS 49
in Unter den Linden, Berlin. I kept one pair of socks and one of
the cream-coloured shirts with the outer clothing I had worn the
day before, and John May said he would take the rest of my new
wardrobe to the monsignor's room, where it would be available
for me on my return from my trip to the country.
Most of the rest of the day at the legation I spent catching up
with the latest war news, and committing it to memory so that
I could pass on as much up-to-date information as possible to the
men in the foothills, but it was still only mid-afternoon when the
monsignor arrived at the legation to take me back to the Collegio
I put on my clerical robes again, and descended with him into
the sunlight, but, in spite of the success of our adventure the
previous night, I found it unnerving to repeat the pose in broad
daylight. There were many more people about, and it seemed
to me, so far as I could see through my lowered eyes, that a higher
proportion of them were gendarmes and guards; however, none
of them gave us a second look, and it occurred to me afterwards
that generally they were all more concerned with keeping people
out of the Vatican than with keeping them in. The position in
the great piazza, with Germans much in evidence, was rather
different, but the monsignor walked slowly on through the mas-
sive colonnade without apparent concern, and I walked with
him, hoping for the best. At the entrance to the college I was
startled to see a porter on duty, but he greeted the monsignor
reverently, and paid no particular attention to me.
Back in the security of Monsignor O'Flaherty's room, I took
off my heavy black robes thankfully, and drew deeply on a
cigarette. As I relaxed I allowed my gaze to wander idly over
.he buildings that could be seen through the window, and sud-
denly I realized there was something familiar about one of the
closest of them.
"Monsignor!" I exclaimed, pointing. "Surely that's the place
we have just left?"
"That's right, me boy," he said, joining me to look through
the window. "That's the Ospizio di Santa Marta."
"Then didn't we go rather a long way round?" I asked, won-
dering if it had all been some sort of elaborate joke.
"We did so," he agreed, "but the important thing is we got
you there and we got you back. There is a much shorter way,
but it means going through two or three gendarmerie posts, where
they are used to seeing me alone, and would have been suspicious
of you at once. So many people go in and out of the big gates
that there is far less risk of being questioned. John May has his
own ways through, of course, but he is well known to all the
guards, and I think they are mostly beholden to him in a good
many little ways."
"You think of everything," I said admiringly.
"Thinking of everything," he replied, "is going to be your job
I stayed the night in the monsignor's room, sleeping on the
long sofa. He had arranged for me to return to the foothills next
morning with Pietro Fabri, the smallholder who had brought me
to Rome, and at dawn he wakened me, and introduced me to a
smiling little priest, who was to be my guide.
Through the routine of walking and tram-dozing, to which
Zambardi had introduced me, I followed the priest back to the
flat of Pasqualino Perfetti, whose greasy appearance depressed
me less now that I knew he was associated with the British rather
than the Gestapo. My guide departed, and after I had changed
back into the old rags which I now considered my country suit,
Perfetti led me to the street market, where Pietro Fabri and a
daughter he had too many for me to be sure if it was the same
one were just selling the last of their vegetables.
I looked at the cart, now bare save for one or two empty let-
tuce boxes, with sudden alarm. In changing into my ragged old
clothes, principally because I did not want any of my new outfit
to suffer through mingling with the cabbages while I hid at the
road-block, I had completely overlooked the fact that on the
return journey there would be no cabbages under which to hide,
unless Pietro had experienced an unexpectedly disastrous mom-
ing. But Perfetti had gone, and there was little hope of making
Pietro understand my concern at the lack of cover.
Sitting up, where he had indicated, beside him on the box, and
in full view of everybody, I felt sure the end had come when I
saw one of the guards at the road-block ahead waving us to a halt.
I sat petrified as the guard approached, but so far from demand-
ing to see all our identity documents, he glanced into the back of
the cart with sour disinterest, stepped back, and waved us on.
Pietro had not seemed concerned at being stopped, and did
TWO TALL MONSIONORS 51
not now appear to be surprised at being allowed to continue on
his way instead of being carted off to be shot for helping escaped
prisoners; but what I could not know was that Pietro, for all his
happy illiteracy, had a much sounder knowledge of the Roman
law than I. There were obscure regulations about what sort of
wares could be taken into, and out of, Rome, but the only rules
affecting people were designed to prevent Italian provincials
from moving in, and taking up residence in a city, when there
was a general food shortage; thus the road-blocks at every access
tended, like the Vatican guard, to be a one-way business, con-
cerned more with what went into the city than with what came
out of it.
Half-way home we wobbled to a halt again, but this time it
was Pietro's own idea. We stopped outside a little wine-parlour,
and I gathered it was his custom to pull up there every time he
returned from Rome, the length of his stay being dictated chiefly
by the degree of success of his operations on the street market.
Although after my early start I welcomed the idea of a glass of
red wine, I was somewhat embarrassed not because I could not
pay for my share, but for precisely the opposite reason.
I was carrying in my trousers pocket no less than fifty thousand
lire, given to me by the Minister to help my group of escapers,
but the notes were all rolled together in a tight wad, and I knew
that to produce that amount of money in such a place as this
crowded little wine-parlour would probably cause comment.
Nevertheless, I could not let Pietro, who had certainly taken his
life into his hands to be of service to me, pay for my refreshment.
Carefully, a fraction of an inch at a time, I gradually managed
to separate just one note from the rest, and produced it from my
pocket. It turned out to be a looo-lire note, and that was more
than enough to cause eyebrows to lift.
Pietro welcomed this windfall with ebullience, and was slightly
tipsy by the time we mounted the cart again at about three in the
afternoon. He had also become rather talkative, and I was not
sorry when the wheels started turning, for, apart from considera-
tion of the risks he was taking, I was anxious to get back to my
headquarters as quickly as possible. It was not going to be easy
to explain my impending departure to the men in the foothills,
for the Minister had made it clear to me that I must not tell them
where I was going, although I could assure them that they would
52 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
continue to be looked after. Equally, explanations would be
difficult with my own hosts and other Italian families in the
vicinity, who had come to look on me as a sort of local British
In fact, I did not get back to my headquarters at all that night.
When we reached Pietro's farm, which was still a couple of miles
short of my destination, he cheerfully insisted that I should spend
the night with his family. I did so, and found conditions rather
different from those I had experienced in the last two nights in
the tiny house were fourteen people, sleeping anywhere and every-
where in their clothes.
Early next morning I returned to my own billet, where I was
greeted by my hosts with warmth that turned to rapture when I
presented them with 4000 lire. To me, it seemed a small price to
pay in return for their loyalty and help at the risk of their own
lives. I knew that whatever gratitude there was should be on my
side, but to them it was clearly a fortune, and for an awful moment
I thought they were going to fall on their knees.
That evening I went up to the foothills, briefed the N.C.O.'s
about the disposal of the money I gave them, and told the escapers
what I had learned about the general war situation. From their
point of view, it was not altogether cheerful news. The front line
had become static, and there was practically no hope of making
a successful link-up with our forces until the position became
more fluid, which might well be not before the spring.
"Any of you who want to make an attempt to get south are
at liberty to have a go," I told them. "You will be given all the
help possible but I can't advise you to try. Your best plan is to
make yourselves as comfortable as possible here, and await de-
velopments. Don't take any chances, and don't be tempted to
head for Rome; above all, don't accept invitations to sleep in the
houses around here the Italians may not all realize that they
would be risking their lives. I must go away from here now, but
I can assure you that you won't be forgotten."
Feeling rather mean, I parried their questions about where
I was going, and after bidding them farewell and wishing them
luck, I returned to sleep for the last time in the straw stack which
had given me such splendid service as hospital, headquarters, and
Next morning Pietro had more cabbages for Rome.
QUITE suddenly I realized that I was being interrogated. Sir
D'Arcy Osborne was not talking about escape and evasion at all,
but was plying me with questions about England and my home
town of Newark, about my regiment, about people, and places.
Having been often interrogated by German intelligence officers,
I knew the form well enough, but it was a new experience to be
subjected to it by somebody who was unquestionably on our side,
and it came like a cold anticlimax at the end of a day in which
I had looked forward, with excited anticipation, to learning
exactly what I was supposed to do in Rome.
I had returned to the Eternal City without incident, the mix-
ture being as before; by Pietro's pony cart to the street market,
with a brief sojourn under the cabbages while we went through
the road-block, a change of clothes at Perfetti's flat, an escorted
tramride to the Collegio Teutonicum, and another successful
masquerade as a prayerful monsignor to get into the Vatican.
It had seemed almost too easy, and now, in the Minister's blue
suit and in the Minister's study, I waited only for my final in-
The Minister seemed to be in no hurry to give them, and I
became increasingly impatient with his apparent trivial small
talk until, suddenly, I realized what lay behind it.
"Sir," I said, when he asked whether I found it more con-
venient to go through Nottingham when travelling from Newark
to London, "you are obviously checking on me. But as I want to
help all I can, I hope you will soon be convinced I am who I say
Sir D'Arcy leaned back, and looked at me directly, his sensitive
features mingling gravity with mild amusement, in an expression
with which I was to become very familiar, but which I never
saw on any other man. "Quite so, major," he said, "but you will
understand that I have to be very careful. The monsignor never
checks up on anybody; he simply accepts at face value every one
who asks him for assistance, and immediately gives all the help
54 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
he can, whatever the risk. I worry about him sometimes, but
there seems to be no way of convincing him that his own life
is well worth preserving. I imagine he made no attempt to check
up on you?"
I realized with a pang how easy it would have been for the
enemy to infiltrate an agent into the line through which I had
passed, and had to admit that the monsignor had taken me com-
pletely on trust, although John May had been rather more
cautious. The British Minister had been still more careful, and
although I did not know it at the time, he had taken no chances
from the start. The courtly knight had been the perfect host at
our first meeting, but had not neglected to send off an urgent
demand for full information about his guest. His coded message
had found its way by devious means from the Vatican to the
Foreign Office, in London, then to the War Office, then to Scot-
land Yard, and finally to Newark Borough Police Force. In
Newark Police Inspector Morley called on my father, to give him
the information that his son, once again reported missing, was
alive and well, though he knew no more information than that.
Such, at any rate, was the ostensible reason for his visit, but he
spent some time chatting with my father, and, by the time he
left, had a good many personal details about me to add to the
growing dossier in London.
Consequently, by the time I returned to the Vatican, Sir
D'Arcy Osborne knew a good deal about the background of
Major S. I. Deny, and in his quiet, apparently casual, conversa-
tion he elicited insignificant details which even the most accom-
plished pretender or agent could scarcely have acquired.
My answers apparently satisfied him, and with that the official
British Organization in Rome for Assisting Allied Escaped
Prisoners of War was born : a unique military unit, the like of
which may never be seen again. The Minister's studied reticence
vanished, and I, previously in possession of only a general out-
line, was soon flooded with details. The aim was straightforward
if not simple namely, to build up, on the foundations laid by
Monsignor O'Flaherty and the Council of Three, an organiza-
tion capable of keeping the constantly growing numbers of
escapere converging on the Rome area out of enemy hands. That
meant finding places for the men to live, ensuring that they
regularly received food, clothing, and medical supplies, and,
UNDERGROUND ARMY 55
where possible, concentrating them in relatively 'safe' coastal areas
for evacuation by British 'cloak and dagger* forces.
Sir D'Arcy made it quite clear that because of his delicate
diplomatic position he would be able to give little direct assistance
beyond arranging a supply of funds from British Government
sources, for, although Pope Pius XII had been fearless in his out-
spoken denunciation of Fascist excesses, there was little doubt that
the Vatican Secretariat of State would jealously preserve its
neutrality, even to the extent of withdrawing its hospitality to the
British Legation if it had any suspicion of abuse.
"I think I may be able to help you in one way, though," said
the Minister. "There is no reason why we should not arrange for
some of the British officers interned in the Vatican to do what-
ever clerical work you may find necessary, so that you are not
cluttered up with administrative detail. They have plenty of time
on their hands, and your paper work will be safer inside the
Vatican, although you must still be very careful about what you
put in writing : the fact that the Vatican has never been raided
does not mean that it never will be, particularly when our advance
gets near Rome."
This offer of administrative staff was welcome for it had al-
ready occurred to me that there would be a mammoth piece of
paper-work involved. There were more than a thousand escapers
in contact with the organization, but, apart from those actually
in Rome and a few others, we did not know who they were. At
home they would have been posted as missing, and until we knew
their names there would be no way of attempting to get reassur-
ances through to their relatives.
Together the Minister and I discussed the general war situa-
tion, and pored over maps of Italy. We could see that there was
no reasonable chance of a rapid Allied advance northward, and
we realized that any plan to keep escapers out of enemy hands
would have to be on a long-term basis. On the other hand, Sir
D'Arcy pointed out that in Rome food supplies had to be chan-
nelled largely through the black market, that they were already
scant, and would probably become much scarcer when winter
settled in. So we decided that, so far as possible, escapers should
be kept out of Rome, where the risks were greatest, but as it was
certain that men would still drift into the city, we decided to
work on the principle of providing accommodation temporarily,
56 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
while continuously filtering them out into groups in the country-
side. We could then direct them at the right times either to the
coastline or somewhere reasonably close to the front line. A study
of the maps revealed a number of places where it seemed unlikely
that the Germans would stand and fight, and these I earmarked
as areas on which to concentrate.
By the time I had returned with Monsignor O'Flaherty I had
a profound realization that little could be achieved without his
help, and I told him, "It's a good thing you're pro-British, mon-
"What makes you think I am ?" he asked sharply.
His reply took me by surprise, but while I was still fumbling
for a coherent reply he went on, "I've no reason to be fond of
the English, you know. Have you ever heard of the Irish
Troubles? The Black and Tans? Well, I saw it all I was there.
It didn't leave me with any vast feeling of affection for your
Confused, I stammered, "Then why . . . ?"
"Why am I helping you now ? Well, I'll tell you, me boy. When
this war started I used to listen to the broadcasts from both sides.
All propaganda, of course, and both making the same terrible
charges against the other. I frankly didn't know which side to be-
lieve until they started rounding up the Jews in Rome. They
treated them like beasts, making old men and respectable women
get down on their knees and scrub the roads. You know the sort
of thing that happened after that; it got worse and worse, and I
knew then which side I had to believe.'*
In the monsignor's little room I made my headquarters and
my home, sleeping on the sofa, and having all my meals brought
to me by the German sisters, to whom I was passed off by my host
as a friend of his, one Patrick Deny, an Irish writer employed in
the Vatican. At first I did not go out at all because, although I
now had a reasonable civilian wardrobe, the monsignor advised
against it until he was able to equip me with some sort of identity
The document produced for me was no rough forgery : it was
a genuine Vatican card, bearing a genuine photograph of me in
my too tight blue suit. But it named me as Patrick Deny, a
Vatican writer, native of Dublin, and son of Isidore Deny and
Mary O'Connell; it gave the date of my birth as December 4,
UNDERGROUND ARMY 57
1903, which added eleven years to my real age of twenty-nine,
making me too old for national service, and its date of issue was
stamped as January 15, 1943, at which time I had actually been
firmly incarcerated at Chieti. The protection which it gave was,
in fact, slight, since a simple inquiry to the Vatican authorities,
or even to the neutral Irish Embassy, would have established very
quickly that there was no such Irishman in the place as Patrick
Deny, but, on the other hand, it gave me the opportunity of satis-
fying casual checks or inquiries in the streets of Rome.
That I should have to pound the Roman pavements pretty
thoroughly was clear, for while the greater number of escapers
remained outside the city, the biggest problem by far was in
Rome itself. As I saw it, the concentration and supply of the
'country branch members' was a relatively simple administrative
matter, but the lone-wolf stragglers who continued to make their
way into Rome would be a permanent headache.
I decided to see for myself all the hiding-places which had so
far been arranged in Rome, and with this plan the monsignor
was in wholehearted agreement, but for different reasons. He felt
it would be a good thing if the escapers were shown that they
were once again under direct military command, and he thought
it might give a boost to the morale of the Italian helpers if they
saw something 'official* was being done.
The first place I wanted to see was the Via Firenze flat, and
Monsignor O'Flaherty arranged for one of his priests, Father
Owen Snedden, a New Zealander, to act as guide. There was little
chance of finding my way about alone, but nevertheless I arranged
to follow him at a distance, rather than accompany him, for I
had already decided that the priests must remain uncompromised
at all costs.
We went by tram to the Via Firenze, which leads off from
Via Venti Settembre, the wide road running straight from Rome's
Buckingham Palace, the Quirinale, to its most famous gate, the
high arched Porta Pia, and housing along its noble sides most
of the great Ministry buildings. This is the Whitehall of Rome,
but, unlike Downing Street, Via Firenze is not a dead-end. It
opens out on to a great opera house, beyond which lay the for-
bidding Ministry of the Interior. Only a few blocks away was the
great railway terminus, which could be guaranteed to contain
more German soldiers to the square yard than any other part of
58 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Rome. It would have been hard to think of a less healthy site for
an escape centre, but I could see the monsignor's point that it was
unlikely to be a suspect area, and it had the further advantage of
being close to the dust-sheeted British Embassy, in Via Venti
Settembre, where individual escapers were still regularly establish-
ing contact with the caretaker, Secundo Constantini.
The flat contained two or three English soldiers, who had
walked out of their camps when the Italians deserted, a fiery
Jugoslav Communist, a couple of Jugoslav girls, and a British
officer who was not an escaper for the simple reason that he had
never been taken prisoner. Lieutenant R. 'Tug* Wilson, R.A.,
already the holder of the D.S.O., as the result of some brilliant
sabotage work behind enemy lines, had been landed on the
Adriatic coast prior to the Allied invasion of Italy, and had let
off a series of interesting explosions on railway lines and docks
before a submarine, which was due to pick him up, failed to keep
its rendezvous. He made his way to Rome, and tried to get into
the Vatican, but arrived just after the Secretariat's ruling that all
would-be internees were to be forcibly excluded. He was picked
up bodily by the guards at the gate, and dumped unceremoniously
in St Peter's Square, where, luckily, he failed to attract German
attention. He was fortunate enough to be directed to Monsignor
O'Flaherty, who took him to the Via Firenze flat and brought
away a letter addressed to the Pope himself, in which Wilson
complained angrily of the treatment he had received at the Vati-
can. It says much for the monsignor's sense of humour that he
actually delivered this expression of injured feelings to the Secre-
tariat, and in due course returned with an official acknowledg-
ment, enclosing a personal invitation to visit the Vatican at some
more propitious time.
Because of the difficulty of getting back to my 'headquarters'
on the right side of the curfew, I had arranged with the mon-
signor to spend the night at Via Firenze, and I found the ex-
perience somewhat disturbing: we were well within the S.S.
security cordon, and after the streets had been cleared for the
night I had great difficulty in getting used to the German
motor-cycles and patrol-cars, which howled past the windows
The other occupants of the flat treated the noise of German
activity with complete indifference, and the Jugoslav Communist
UNDERGROUND ARMY 59
kept me up for most of the night in animated argument. Bruno
Biichner was a man of strong views, and he treated the idea of
an organization to help Allied escapers with derision. "Why spend
money on them?" he demanded. "What use are they to the war
effort? We all ought to be killing Germans, and blowing things
Patiently I tried to explain that the numbers of men at large
would eventually represent a very considerable addition to the
war effort, if we could keep them well and free, quite apart from
the even more important humanitarian aspect. Biichner thought
little of the first point, and nothing at all of the second. The
farthest he would go was to suggest that all the men should be
given food, and sent blundering southward. The Jugoslav's argu-
ments gave me an interesting new outlook on Communist
philosophy, but I could not foresee then what I learned later:
that his passion for blowing things up could be a tragically back-
Next morning Graziella, one of the Jugoslav girls, guided me
back to St Peter's Square, where, as arranged, I found another
priest waiting for me under the colonnades. Father John Claffey
led me a little way down the great avenue away from St Peter's,
then right into Via dei Penitenzieri, where he shared an apart-
ment with another Irish priest, Father Vincent Treacy, of the
Congregation of St Mary. Because they lived so close to the
monsignor's office, they frequently accommodated his latest pro-
t6g&, and I met three new escapers there.
Father Claffey then took me to my next guide, a cheerful little
Maltese named Brother Robert Pace, who was to lead me to the
home of his gallant countrywoman, Mrs Chevalier, the first to
provide accommodation for the monsignor's escapers. Brother
Robert, whose black cassock was ornamented by the little white
bows of his Order, led me back to the tramstop on the far side of
the river Tiber. We had, of course, agreed not to sit together,
but the tram was unexpectedly full, and I found myself com-
pletely separated from my guide by a crowd of Italians. I won-
dered, as I 'dozed' on the tram, how I should manage if I lost
him altogether, but I was not unduly alarmed. I had memorized
the address to which we were going, and I could manage enough
Italian to ask, "D'ove la Via Impera?" I should probably have
failed to make much of a voluble reply, but I was prepared to
60 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
take a chance on interpreting the gestures which would un-
doubtedly go with it. In any case, I was pretty sure I could find
my way back to St Peter's and the Collegio Teutonicum, although
it might mean a long walk through dangerous streets instead of a
tramride. By the merest chance, my more pessimistic plans did
not have to be put to the test; at one stop something seemed to
compel me to 'wake up 9 and take the risk of staring round be-
hind me and there was my guide with one foot already on the
road. I leapt up, pushed my way past the other passengers, and
jumped off with the tram already moving away.
Brother Robert led me through a couple of streets, which, like
so many in Rome, seemed to be a mixture of the seedy and the
spectacular overcrowded apartments with peeling plaster rub-
bing lintels with palatial buildings, in a curious classlessness. We
turned into an entrance between two shops, climbed endless
stairs, and rang the bell at an apartment door, which was opened
by a vivacious and voluble little woman with bright dark eyes and
a kind, motherly face.
Mrs Chevalier was expecting us, and she welcomed me as
though I were a long-lost son. She ushered us in, and introduced
me to the four British soldiers who were billeted with her. Look-
ing round the tiny flat, I could not imagine how they all man-
aged to live there at once, and I was amazed at the thought that
the little widow also had seven of her own offspring in residence.
It was not surprising that there were mattresses to be seen every-
where, on the floor, all along the corridor, and propped against
My intention had been to thank Mrs Chevalier on behalf of
the British Army for all she had done and was doing, but her
idea was clearly to have some sort of party. She fussed around,
setting out food and drink, laughing, and chattering continuously
to the effect that everything was wonderful. When at last I was
able to edge a word into the cheerful torrent, and asked if the
escapers were giving any problems, she replied, "They are ab-
solutely grand, these boys. They are just like my own children. It
is all so marvellous."
If Mrs Chevalier realized that her life was in danger every
minute she had a single escaper, let alone four, in her care, she
gave no signs of it. With the same spirit of stoic gallantry that
earned for her island home a George Cross, she accepted her
UNDERGROUND ARMY 6l
r61e in the war as a personal duty, and then proceeded to make
a pleasure of it. I was embarrassed by the realization that she
looked upon my visit as an honour bestowed upon her, whereas
I had, in fact, come to thank her humbly and gratefully. But
every time I tried she thanked me for letting her have 'her boys/
and plied me with pastries and wine. I decided that if I could
not express my thanks I would at least take the practical step of
ensuring, so far as lay within my power, that no harm ever befell
her, and, as a start, I impressed firmly on the four escapers that
they were in a position of great responsibility, and would be held
personally answerable if she should find herself in trouble through
any carelessness or indiscretion of theirs. I was glad to observe
that they accepted this burden willingly : it was obvious that they
would gladly have given their own lives to save hers.
Before I left we also worked out a rudimentary escape drill,
the cardinal principle of which was that in emergency they should
get as far away from Via Impera as possible, and thereafter re-
frain from divulging, even to other escapers, where they had been
living, for the use of Mrs Chevalier's flat as an unofficial transit
camp meant that already more than enough people knew of her
work. Needless to say, my visit to Mrs Chevalier lasted a good
deal longer than I had expected, and I returned to the Collegio
Teutonicum only just in time to beat the curfew.
The course of the next few days followed the same pattern of
scurrying about Rome under the noses of the enemy, but although
I felt conspicuous in daylight, I knew that to be found on the
streets after curfew would invite searching, and possibly a
disastrous interrogation. I never became quite used to the sudden
shock of finding myself walking among a group of German
soldiers, or face to face with a couple of S.S. men as they emerged
from a caf6, their jack-boots gleaming, and the skull-and-cross-
bones insignia leering hideously from their lapels; nor did I ever
conquer the sense of loneliness that walked with me on the streets
of Rome for if the stranger in a strange land is always lonely heis
never more so than when he dare not speak, even in his own
Then followed a period of reconnaissance rather than action,
but at every billet I visited I put the senior man in command, and
instituted a form of evacuation drill, the foundation of which
was that the escaper should rapidly remove all traces of his
62 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
occupation before he left. There was not much point in preserving
the freedom of the escaper if it cost the lives of three or four loyal
I visited all the other billets in Rome, usually with Monsignor
O'Flaherty as my guide. If the distance was reasonable we
walked, partly because I needed the exercise, but chiefly because
the monsignor liked walking. In any case, tram journeys were
always worrying, because sometimes a voluble Italian wanted to
talk, and my 'dozing' act was not invariably successful.
On one occasion the talkative passenger beside me was not
a Roman at all but a grey-uniformed German soldier, who de-
cided that I was just the person on whom to practise his Italian.
He asked me a question, in what was obviously intended to be
Italian, but was so mangled by guttural Teutonic intonation that
I doubt if any Roman citizen could have understood it, let alone
me. I dared no more than grunt a reply, but the German was
persistent, and spoke again. Making a show of annoyance at being
disturbed, I settled more deeply into my 'doze/ but realizing as
I turned an expressive back to the soldier that this was not the
sort of behaviour that Germans expected or generally tolerated
from Italians, I decided not to press my luck too far, and as the
tram ground to its next stop, I 'awoke* with a start, pushed past
the soldier, jumped off, and walked quickly down the street. I
was still far short of my destination, but fortunately the priest
who was guiding me had noticed what was happening, and got
off in time to overtake me, and, without speaking, lead me back
to my proper course.
I was paying fairly frequent visits to the British Minister to
report progress, and the monsignor's soutane now sat less un-
comfortably on my shoulders; indeed, the gendarmes never made
any effort to challenge me, and the guards around the Collegio
Teutonicum became so accustomed to the new ^Vatican writer 1
in the tight blue suit that they even acknowledged me with salutes.
I was becoming quite adept at behaving with priestly calm and
dignity on my visits as a monsignor to the Vatican, but it was
always a relief to get back into the r&le of the Irish Patrick Deny,
which called for no acting ability.
On one call at the Vatican Sir D'Arcy Osborne introduced me
to Captain Henry Judson Byrnes, a Royal Canadian Army Ser-
vice Corps officer, who had been interned in the Vatican since
UNDERGROUND ARMY 63
September. With Major John Munroe Sym, of the Seaforth
Highlanders, and Sub-Lieutenant Roy Charlton Elliott, a young
submarine officer, he had broken away from a prison-camp party
being marched through the back streets of Rome, and they were
lucky enough to contact a friendly Italian doctor, who drove
them in his car to the Vatican. There they were promptly taken
over by the Pontifical Gendarmerie, and lodged in the barracks
as internees, shortly before the Vatican made its unequivocal
'no admittance* rule. They were living in the barracks, furiously
impatient, and annoyed with themselves for having voluntarily
become internees in the mistaken hope that they would be freed
within a few weeks by a rapid Allied advance. However, they had
a certain amount of freedom during the day, and were able to
visit the British Legation, where eventually the long-suffering
secretary to the Legation, Mr Hugh Montgomery, surrendered
his own office for use by them as a sort of clubroom a typical
gesture by a generous man, whose work for the organization was
in due course to place escapers all over northern Italy permanently
in his debt.
Captain 'Barny' Byrnes was to be my promised administrative
assistant, and it was pleasing to learn that he and Elliott had
already begun card-indexing all escapers so far known to- be at
large in Italy. Although records were reasonably secure with
Byrnes, we agreed that all documents relating to the day-to-day
work of the organization for escapers should be placed in tins,
and buried each night in the Vatican gardens, to which he assured
me he could gain access after dark. These records, showing how
the Government's money had been spent, would be available for
the ultimate day of reckoning with the War Office, but could
remain safely undisturbed in the meantime. Byrnes tackled his
mammoth task with enthusiasm, and it was largely through his
work that we were able, not only to ensure that the assistance we
were giving went into the right channels, but also to set at rest
the minds of worried relatives of missing men much sooner than
might otherwise have been possible.
On the same day I was introduced to Count Sarsfield Salazar,
the only member of the original Council of Three whom I had
not previously met. He told me that the Swiss Embassy was still
being inundated with requests for help from escapers in the sur-
rounding countryside, and we arranged that he should continue
64 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
to send out assistance, with the aid of funds which I would pass
to him. Unfortunately, his work was interrupted only a few days
later, when, learning that he had been denounced, he went into
hiding. It was a timely warning, for two days later the S.S. burst
into his vacant apartments, and carried out a search so thorough
that all his valuable furniture was wrecked and most of his per-
sonal possessions destroyed. The Count remained under cover,
and his efforts for the organization were naturally restricted,
although he continued to do much good work in the purchase of
clothing, food, and medical supplies.
A more spectacular meeting put me in contact, for the first
time, with our own forces on the other side of the line. Unaware
of what was being done in Rome, the British 'cloak and dagger*
force headquarters in the south of Italy had decided to send an
agent north with 20,000 lire, to help any Allied escapers or in-
vaders he might meet. The man chosen was a small dark Italian
named Peter Tumiati, who had for several years been a political
prisoner of the Fascists. Tumiati, knowing Rome, naturally knew
Monsignor O'Flaherty, to whom he sent a message immediately
upon arriving in the city. The monsignor replied, asking him to
a rendezvous with me, and so we met in the usual place, under
the colonnade of St Peter's Square.
Tumiati told me that he was returning to Ban, on our side
of the lines, and asked me if there was anything he could do to
help. My difficulty was that one can scarcely ask an M.I. 9 man
for his credentials. The monsignor, in whatever way my questions
were phrased, simply said, "Why, me boy, I know him well,"
and changed the subject.
There was method as well as madness in the monsignor's out-
look, for in the 'underground' business one had to have a certain
amount of faith. However, I thought I had better ask for some-
thing pretty harmless, and then wait and see whether Tumiati
came back with it or with a couple of Teutonic friends, so I
asked him if he could possibly find me a few street-maps of
Rome. This was an innocuous request, because although maps
were physically difficult to come by, possession of them was not
viewed with any suspicion by the authorities, and Tumiati looked
faintly surprised that I should need assistance in such a simple
"That/ 9 he said, "I can do at once." And he did, picking up
UNDERGROUND ARMY 65
a sizeable supply from the back room of a local printer, who was
known to him.
Although not inclined to entrust much information to the
agent, I decided that the most useful and least dangerous thing
to do was to send back to Bari a list of all the ex-prisoners known
to be at large. If it fell into enemy hands it would probably tell
them little they did not already know, since it could be assumed
that the Germans had by now discovered the loss of several hun-
dreds of prisoners; but, on the other hand, it would be of immense
value to our own side, and would indicate to Military Intelligence
that some sort of organization in Rome was looking after escapers.
"If we are to do this," I said to Monsignor OTlaherty and
John May, "and the Germans catch Tumiati with it, he will cer-
tainly be shot. We have to find a way of giving him a sporting
chance of smuggling it through the country."
"Microfilm the lot," said John May thoughtfully. "I can
arrange it," he grinned, giving the broadest possible wink, which
I took as a recommendation not to inquire too deeply into his
The tiny microfilm, which John May produced a few hours
later, was so small that it was hard to believe that it could contain
in legible form perfect copies of all the lists prepared by 'Barney'
Byrnes, running now to nearly 2000 names, numbers, and ranks.
"Where do we go from here ?" I mused.
Again it was the ingenuity of John May that produced the
answer. He took the film away, and later returned with a number
of small loaves of the type the Italians were always seen carry-
ing. He had put the film into the dough and baked it.
"There!" said John May happily, "and a better bit of bread
you won't find in Italy, though I say it myself."
Peter Tumiati was delighted with the ruse, and promised that
if he got through to Bari a particular phrase at the end of a B JJ.C.
broadcast from London would give us the news in due course.
"Don't eat the wrong one !" I grinned as he departed.
I listened to the B.B.C. broadcasts, and, sure enough, one
night some weeks later a single phrase told me that Tumiati had
been as good as his word. The British were now in possession of
a list of the escapers in our care, and in nearly two thousand
homes missing had become 'Missing but known to be safe.' Un-
fortunately, the list was now far out of date.
66 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
In the meantime I had made another unexpected contact.
Umberto Losena had been a major in the Italian paratroop
corps, but after the German occupation of Rome he had volun-
teered to work against the Germans, and had been trained by the
British as a radio-operator. He had arrived in Rome to find out
whatever he could about the enemy, and report back by means
of a tiny British transmitter in a suitcase.
The monsignor brought the ex-major to me, and I liked him
on sight : he was a handsome man, and there was a burning in-
tegrity in his dark eyes. He had the singular, calculated courage
of all underground radio-operators for the man who was caught
with a secret radio knew that he could expect only torture until
he talked, and only death when he talked. Losena had a glowing
loathing of the Nazis, and his eagerness to help the organization
extended far beyond sending the occasional message to Ban. "I
am an Italian/ 5 he smiled, spreading his hands, "I can go any-
where for you."
He was the first free-lance agent, able to travel with relative
freedom anywhere in the country, to come my way, and he soon
became one of my most valuable contacts. He would visit me two
or three times every week, and take supplies to the escapers and
evaders all over the provinces of Lazio and Umbria.
But I did not forget that Umberto Losena was in Rome for the
purpose of relaying information about the Germans. The men I
visited in the billets often saw troop and other movements, and
I made a point of noting details, like the unit badges worn by
German soldiers I saw. It was satisfying to be playing an attack-
ing r61e again, though in but a small way, and in any case I felt
that the military side of the organization ought, if possible, to pro-
vide some return for the British taxpayer's money being expended
on it. We comprised two thousand potential agents behind enemy
lines, and it was a natural duty to keep our eyes open for any-
thing useful to the intelligence people. But I think I got the better
of the bargain. Apart from his direct assistance to the organiza-
tion, Losena enabled me to put into operation a plan for the
supply and evacuation of some of our escapers.
Messages to Ban arranged successful supply-drops from Royal
Air Force planes to two of our largest country groups, at Mon-
torio Romano and Nerola, some miles north of Rome, and four
separate drops of parachute canisters not only relieved the strained
UNDERGROUND ARMY 67
resources of the organization but also overcame, for a time, the
problem of transporting vast quantities of stores out of Rome.
With Losena's radio it was also possible to arrange for three
successful evacuations of escapers concentrated near the Adriatic
beaches. In each case the 'cloak and dagger* boys sent in field
teams, who arranged for the escapers to be on the right spot at
the right time, and in each case the remarkable nearly indepen-
dent force known as Topski's Private Army' landed a tough de-
tachment to form a bridgehead, and, if necessary, engage the
Germans while the ex-prisoners were loaded on to the waiting
troop landing craft.
TTie c cloak and dagger* boys were prepared for trouble on any
scale, but the remarkable fact is that several hundred escapers
were moved to the beaches, and spirited into the night without
attracting any attention at all from the Germans; not a single
shot was fired.
These three operations, despite their audacity, must have been
among the cheapest of the war but not for Umberto Losena,
whose little wireless-set had made them possible. He always made
his transmissions from the same place, and gradually the Gestapo
net tightened around him, as direction-finding equipment took
new bearings on each successive signal. He was arrested, and my
gloomy foreboding that we should never see him again was f ul-
The lesson of the gallant Italian was taken to heart, and there-
after secret radio-operators working in Rome in time there were
four sent each message from a different place, often working
from park benches while apparently making love to a girl. Rome
has many parks and public gardens, and it was never necessary
for an operator to send his messages from a building. The con-
tinuous changes of location defeated the Gestapo direction-finders,
who possibly believed that there were a hundred secret trans-
mitters in Rome, but so far as I am aware no other Allied operator
was ever arrested.
Security ruses such as these were beyond me during my first
week or two in command of the new organization, for most of my
early thoughts about security were directed against Monsignor
O'Flaherty's extraordinary habit of introducing all sorts of char-
acters, some of whom I viewed dubiously. Sometimes he sent a
message asking me to come down to the Holy Office to meet some
68 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
one, but often, without any warning, he would throw open the
door of his room, in which he was harbouring an escaped British
officer without the approval of his superiors, and usher in a com-
It was in this disconcerting manner that I met two immaculate
Frenchmen, Jean de Blesson and Frangois de Val, whom the
monsignor gaily introduced as first and second secretaries at the
Ambassade de France unaware, I presumed, that French em-
bassies were units of the Vichy Government, which was actively
collaborating with the Germans.
The two Frenchmen welcomed me almost passionately, and
lost no time in pointing out that the French Ambassador was, in-
deed, a Vichy man, hand in glove with the German Military
Government. His embassy, on the other hand, was the head-
quarters of the Free French movement in Rome, which De Vial
and De Blesson were spending almost all their time organizing.
I had now had several meetings with Blon Kiernan, and had
become used to the idea of an Irish Embassy headed by a strict
neutral with a wholly pro-British family, but I was surprised by
this even more extreme division in the French Embassy.
De Vial and De Blesson were not merely pro-British: they
wanted to work positively against the Germans straight away.
Volubly and enthusiastically they offered me the use of all the
resources of their organization. Embarrassingly they made it clear
that they looked to me, as the only British commander in Rome,
for instruction on all matters of war policy. Although I could not
see myself in the r&le of a sort of underground elderly statesman,
I accepted their offer of help gratefully.
An astonishing number of underground organizations seemed
to be operating in Rome. Apart from the Free French and our-
selves, there were the Royal Jugoslavs and the Jugoslav Com-
munists, the organization of Roman noble families and the Italian
Communists all with remarkable 'grape-vines, 9 which soon told
them of me and my hopes. In normal times the people making
up these groups would have been at each other's throats, but
now they all wanted the same thing the defeat of Germany.
One by one, their representatives contacted me, all offering help,
though some were more concerned with active subversion and
sabotage than with the maintenance of escaped prisoners. I was
the first British commander they had met, and most of them
UNDERGROUND ARMY 69
assumed, quite wrongly, that I was in direct touch with the armies
in the field. Consequently, like the French secretaries, they started
looking to me for policy decisions, and I found myself, rather to
my surprise, the mandatory leader of a unique underground
army or, as I preferred to think of it, the honorary presi-
dent of a sort of United Nations conglomeration of 'kindred
The most swashbuckling, although one of the smallest, of the
underground movements was that of the Greeks, and my first
introduction to them rather took my breath away. Presented to
me by the monsignor, Evangelo Averoff and Theodore Meletiou
immediately announced that the latter, on a trip to the north of
Italy, had discovered a spectacular group of British escapers : three
generals, an air vice-marshal, and four brigadiers.
Averoff, a former Prefect of Corfu, who was later to become
his country's foreign minister at a time when relations with Eng-
land were far less amicable, did most of the talking. He said that
Meletiou had been taken prisoner, while fighting in the Greek
army, and subsequently escaped. He had been travelling about
the country looking for other Greek escapeis who were in need
of assistance, was just about to head north again, and his services
were at my disposal.
I was not sure what to do for the best, for while it was clearly
desirable for me to establish contact with the impressive addition
to the 'country branch/ I certainly did not consider Rome at the
present time to be a secure place in which to hide eight very senior
British officers. Finally, I gave Meletiou, who used the code name
'Mario,' 10,000 lire for the officers, and suggested he might lead
one of them but not more back to Rome if he could manage
it. Mario did not seem to consider this a formidable assignment,
and set off happily on his travels, but I confess that I never really
expected to see him again, let alone one of the generals. How-
ever, I was to learn, like the Trojans and the Italian Fascists be-
fore me, that it is unwise to underestimate the Greeks.
The generals would have been an embarrassing addition to my
company of underground Romans, but apart from that, the whole
object of my strategy at that time was to keep the traffic flowing in
the opposite direction from Rome into the country. With the
help of rural priests and villagers, we had, in fact, managed to
move a good number of billctees from Rome out to the greater
70 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
safety of the country groups, but as soon as we laboriously evacu-
ated a few, others drifted in to the city. From all over northern
Italy Allied escapers were still making a bee-line for Rome, mostly
with the out-dated idea of surrendering for internment at the
Vatican. Not only the escapers themselves, but the Italians who
helped them, thought this was the right thing to do. As soon,
therefore, as we stopped a trickle from one direction, a stream
started coming in from another.
I decided that we should have to provide a reception centre,
so that large numbers could be lodged at short notice if necessary,
while alternative billets were found. So we cleared the flats at
Via Firenze and Via Chelini.
There was a risk in keeping large groups of escapers in one
place, even for a short time. Too many eggs were in one basket.
But there were advantages, for it gave us time to interrogate new
arrivals, check their stories, and so reduce the growing danger of
admitting a stool-pigeon into the line. Moreover, the flats gave
us a certain amount of breathing-space, since finding 'lodgings'
with Italian families could not be done on the spur of the moment,
and the number of men who could be accommodated in any one
'cell' as the billets became known was restricted; often just a
couple, and sometimes only one.
By the beginning of December the number of escapers and
evaders on the organization's books had passed well beyond the
2000 mark, and there were eighty precariously hidden in Rome
itself. Even with the two flats, finding accommodation for this
number was a serious problem, and the supply of food was be-
coming daily more difficult. The most severe winter for many
years had begun, and, one way and another, the Rome organiza-
tion was stretched to its limits. Once again, the only solution
seemed to be an increase of staff. Monsignor O'Flaherty's priests
were working wonders, but I considered they were already carry-
ing too heavy a burden, and they could not become involved in
the expanding intelligence work now becoming an important part
of the military side of the organization. We needed a couple more
officers, confident, yet with a sound sense of security, and pre-
ferably able to speak Italian with some fluency. So I began to
size men up for reasons other than mere caution as I interviewed
the new arrivals. Most of those interviews took place in Mon-
signor O'Flaherty's office on the ground floor at the Holy Office,
UNDERGROUND ARMY *Jl
to which escapers were directed in a steady stream by a host of
agencies, and to which I was constantly being invited over the
The monsignor, needless to say, welcomed every new arrival
with cheerful enthusiasm, and paid no attention to my repeated
protests that he was putting himself in danger. "Don't worry, me
boy," was always his reply. Nevertheless, I could not help worry-
ing for the safety of this great and generous man. I broke into a
cold sweat every time I contemplated how readily he might help
some reasonably competent Gestapo agent to uncover all his
activities, and how easy it would be for the Germans to get a
stool-pigeon into the organization's headquarters.
On December 8, beaming all over his face, Monsignor
OTlaherty flung open the door of his room, and announced, in
a resonant boom that echoed all the way down the corridor, "An-
other new arrival for you, Patrick.' 5 Turning, I caught my breath.
I recognized at once the dark, inscrutable face and die small
sallow frame of the multi-lingual Cypriot, whom I believed re-
sponsible for the treacherous denunciation of the escape com-
mittee at Chieti prison camp. It was Joe Pollak. And, for all I
knew, the monsignor had already given away enough to get him-
No Red Tabs
EVER since I started working for the organization, I had been
looking out for people from Chieti, particularly now I was seek-
ing potential assistants, but I had never given a thought to Joe
Pollak, who was certainly the last man from P.G.si I wanted to
see in Rome. Yet here he was, and losing my head would only
add to whatever trouble we were in already, so I steeled myself to
greet him politely. I decided that the best way of preventing him
from finding out any more was to do the asking myself.
"It's a hell of a surprise to see you here," I told him truth-
fully. "How did you manage it?" Pollak, who seemed quite at
his ease, said he had been underground with a large number^ of
escapers and evaders in Sulmona, eighty miles to the east. This,
at least, I knew could be true, because a good deal of financial
assistance had been going there through an Italian girl.
"Things got a bit hot at Sulmona," Pollak continued. "The
Jerries were raiding everywhere, and our Italian 'padrones' started
to lose their nerve. Most of the chaps decided to get away until
things calmed down a bit, and some of us thought we would
make for Rome. I've left the others in a hotel here. I came with
six others, apart from a couple of Italian girls."
This seemed to be the obvious way for an agent to infiltrate
himself into the organization, and the fact that it was difficult to
get people into the city only increased my suspicions. Quite apart
from that, even if all were genuine escapers, it meant seven ad-
ditional mouths for the organization to feed at a time when our
strategy was to get people out into the country. I must lose either
way. If his six companions did not exist Pollak was certainly
working for the enemy; if they did, and were genuine, it was
still possible that he was an agent who had infiltrated with
Playing for time, I asked for the names of those he had brought
with him, and he started his catalogue. "Well, there's Lieutenant
Furman, Lieutenant Simpson . . ."
This was better news indeed, for John Furman and Bill Simp-
NO RED TABS 73
son, both Gunner lieutenants, had been close friends of mine at
Chieti, and I knew that they were men who could be trusted
implicitly. Both had made escapes in the Sulmona area some time
before my own jump from the train.
Simpson, tall and thin, with a slow, calm smile, and sensitive
hands that had managed to coax music from an unfriendly
double bass in the Chieti camp orchestra, had, in fact, contrived
to avoid the Sulmona camp altogether. On the way there in a
lorry, with about thirty other prisoners, he had jumped over the
side as the vehicle turned into the lane leading to the camp. His
timing was impeccable, for the turn diverted the attention of the
German guards, and also brought the lorry sufficiently close to the
hedge at the side of the road to enable him to plunge clean over
it into a field, where, shaken but unharmed, he lay low for a
while, and then got away while the Germans at the camp were
still trying to work out how and where they had lost him.
Furman, a complete contrast in temperament and appearance,
was short, wiry, red-headed and dynamic, a master of the theory
of escape, and endowed with more initiative than any other
prisoner I had known. No troglodyte, he confessed that tunnels
took too long to produce results for his tastes. Always during our
discussion of various schemes at Chieti, he favoured the use of
subterfuge, although many of his ideas were impracticable for
anybody without his fluency in both German and Italian. Unlike
Simpson, his close friend, Furman was transported to Sulmona
camp by the Germans, but he did not condescend to stay for very
long before bamboozling them into letting him walk out again,
unhindered, and in broad daylight. He persuaded the Germans
to allow prisoners to go, under armed escort, out of camp, and
down the road to a village horse-trough, where they could wash.
This, he pointed out to the hygiene-conscious Germans, would
reduce the danger of lice infestation in a camp that suffered from
a chronic shortage of water. He enjoyed his first wash, although
he and his companions startled the Italian peasants by stripping
naked, and plunging bodily into the trough. But his principal aim
in going out with the first party was to survey the geography be-
yond the double wire, and an opportunity to put his new know-
ledge to good use came only a day or two later. He saw another
column heading through the gates towards the trough, so, on
the spur of the moment, he grabbed a towel, and rushed after
74 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
them, explaining in breathless German to the sentry who stopped
him at the gate, "I'm with that party, I'm a bit late." Curtly
commanded to hurry after them, Furman made every pretence
of doing so, trotting diligently, but carefully refraining from
closing the fifty-yard gap between him and the two armed guards
at the rear of the marching column. He was still fifty yards behind
when he followed them round a bend in the lane, where a hedge
obscured the view of the sentry at the gates, and, bending sud-
denly double, he charged straight through the hedge, and into the
very field from which Bill Simpson had begun his escape.
I had heard nothing of either since their rejection of further
German hospitality, and their arrival in Rome seemed to me too
good to be true. It was clear that the only way to find out if Pollak
was telling the truth was to see them for myself.
"Would you feel happy about going back now, and returning
here again to-morrow ?"
"Certainly," he said.
"Very well, then. Come back in the morning, and bring Lieu-
tenant Furman with you, will you ?"
I was watching Pollak keenly as I spoke, but he remained
impassive, and seemed not at all perturbed. Alter he had gone, I
was alternately depressed, as I thought of the danger to which the
whole organization seemed exposed, and elated, at the prospect
of a reunion with John Furman. If Furman really was in Rome
I knew that he would jump at the chance of helping with the
work, and no one was more suited to the task.
Reckoning that sufficient risks had already been taken, I
arranged to be told of Pollak's arrival at the inquiry office next
morning, and to go down there instead of allowing him and who-
ever he brought to be shown up. When the messenger came I
made my way with mixed feelings to the porter's office. Two
visitors were already facing the door when I opened it, and with
delight I recognized the unmistakable diminutive form of John
Furman, thinner than I remembered him, but still wiry, and
obviously bursting with suppressed energy.
"Sam!" he shouted, and then looked round him guiltily, as
though remembering he was not in a British officers' club. I knew
that we were safe enough, and that the one or two guards potter-
ing about the room were friends.
"John, you old beggar! It's damned good to see you !" I ex-
claimed, and there followed a welter of hand-shaking and back-
As I led Furman and Pollak through the courtyard to the Col-
legio Teutonicum, I learned that they had arrived at the Vatican
in style, Pollak, with his supremely confident command of the lan-
guage, having engaged a carrozza, or horse-drawn cab, so that
Furman should see something of the glories of Rome on the way.
Outside the college I collected a salute from a guard to whom
I had by now become a familiar figure.
"You seem to be pretty well known around here," said Furman,
"I know most of the guards in this part," I admitted. 'They
are all first-class chaps. But be careful don't jump to the con-
clusion that all the guards at the Vatican will be so friendly."
At the door of the room which I shared with the monsignor
we paused, and I told Furman to go in while I took Pollak to an
empty room at the end of the corridor, where I asked him to
wait. I was determined to get Furman alone, and find out how
they had come in contact with each other.
Remembering the warm hospitality that had made my own
first visit to the monsignor's room such a delight, I did not im-
mediately broach the subject with Furman, but told him to make
himself comfortable, and offered him a drink.
"Well, just one, as this is a bit of an occasion," he replied, "but,
by and large, I have to keep off the stuff. They tell me it is no
good for dysentery."
I assured him that could be put right, because by now the
escapers in Rome had their own underground health service,
supplied by a couple of R.A.M.C. officers a doctor and a
"I expect you are wondering where Pollak is," I said, as we
set our glasses down, and Furman nodded. "Well, John, before
I take him into my confidence, I want you to tell me everything
you know about him. We were not at all sure about him at Chieti
thought he might be the stool-pigeon. We couldn't prove any-
thing, but the stories he told about his capture in Greece and
transfer to Italy never seemed to add up. What do you think?"
"I think," said Furman slowly, "that Joe Pollak is one of the
most terrific chaps I've ever met."
This was unexpected, but I began to understand what he meant
76 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
as he gave me an outline of what had happened to him since
he walked out of the prison camp at Sulmona. After bursting
through the hedge, Furman had lain low in his field for seven
hours before judging it safe to proceed, and even then he had
difficulty in keeping out of the way of the searchlights, which
continuously swept the surrounding countryside from towers set
along the barbed-wire perimeter of the camp. His aim was to
walk south, and join up with the Allied forces, but first he had
to skirt the town of Sulmona. This took all night, crawling through
streams and bogs, but at dawn he found to his disgust he was
back where he had started. He hid in a hut, where he was dis-
covered by some Italian boys, who fortunately turned out to be
friendly, and took him to a family just outside the town. There
the son of the house, a former lieutenant in the Italian artillery,
agreed to help him on his way south.
But first, the Italian said, Furman must stay long enough to
meet a friend of his. He rummaged through a pile of books, and
brought out a small photograph. It was of Joe Pollak. After a
couple of wearying days, Pollak arrived at the house, well dressed
in civilian clothes, and looking prosperous. He explained that he
had been one of a large group of prisoners who had escaped when
their guards deserted, and had taken to the mountains near Sul-
mona. There, because of his knowledge of the language, he had
been appointed liaison officer with the Italians. Eventually, he
obtained forged identity papers as a 'medical student,' and was
moving quite freely about the town, where he had formed a
number of anti-Fascist families into a loose organization aimed at
helping Allied escapers. Furman was delighted to learn that the
officer who was engaged in organizing the escapers into billets
was none other than his old friend, Lieutenant Bill Simpson, and
was all in favour of meeting him at once, but Pollak advised
against attempting to wander around Sulmona looking like the
least prosperous sort of tramp, and suggested that he should wait
until he was re-kitted.
Several days later Furman and Simpson were reunited, and
they shared the growing work of organizing the escaped prisoners.
Between them they arranged the audacious escape by sheet-
ladder of seven prisoners from the local hospital and the Italian
woman doctor, who had been looking after them, went too, de-
ciding that she could do more for her own patients if she set tip
NO RED TABS 77
headquarters in the hills than if she remained under close German
The Germans, in fact, had a tight hold on Sulmona, and
round-ups were frequent. When the usual accompaniment of
shouting, door-battering, and hysterics announced another raid,
one night in October, Furman hid in a bush in the garden, and
was just congratulating himself on a narrow escape when he got
up to find himself face to face with a German soldier. It would
be difficult to say which was the more surprised, but the Briton
was the quicker to react : he gave the German a hearty shove in
the chest with both hands, sprinted away, and leapt at a three-
foot fence. Unfortunately, Furman was never designed for
hurdling, and he picked himself up painfully on the other side,
to find that he was surrounded by menacing Germans. He was
added to a growing group of captives, but, on looking round,
recognized hardly any of them, and when the explanation
dawned on him he was not sure whether to be amused or horri-
fied. This was not a round-up of escaped prisoners-of-war and
their helpers, but a routine collection of Italians for forced labour.
The idea of becoming a slave labourer for Hitler's Reich did
not greatly appeal to Furman, but he spent a fortnight digging
vehicle pits under German supervision at a site some miles from
Sulmona. He put little effort into his spade-work, but devoted a
good deal of energy to investigating the possibility of bribing his
way out of the labour camp. At length it paid dividends, for with
the connivance of a disgruntled Austrian guard, he slipped
through the gate, and walked back to Sulmona.
He revelled in the welcome he received from Simpson and
Pollak, but in Sulmona food, clothing, medical supplies, and
accommodation were all becoming more difficult to obtain in
the absence of money. After a long discussion, they hit upon the
idea of trying to get an appeal to the British diplomats in the
Vatican, and Iride, a Sulmona girl, who regularly thumbed her
way to Rome and back on German vehicles, in connexion with
her successful black-market activities, undertook to deliver the
Her success astonished the group, for she returned with 40,000
lire, as well as an unsigned note (from me), warning the escapers
not to attempt to make their way to Rome at the present time.
Thereafter, as I knew well enough at the Vatican end, Iride's
78 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
journeys which the Sulmona escapers suspected were facilitated
by the provision of some personal satisfaction for the German
drivers became a regular supply line. Iride used some of the
money she received for the purchase in Rome of pullovers, socks,
and other essential supplies, and at Sulmona Bill Simpson or-
ganized the distribution of cash, food, and clothing to the various
houses where escapers were accommodated.
In other respects, however, the Sulmona situation was de-
teriorating, and when one entire Italian family was arrested and
shot for harbouring an escaper the whole town became jittery.
One night the Germans raided an area in which Simpson, Fur-
man, and a dozen others were living, searching every house, with
one exception. In the one house they overlooked all the escapers
were having a birthday party. Minutes before the clatter of Ger-
man jack-boots and the thudding of rifle-butts on the doors had
shaken the houses on either side, the escapers had been happily
singing Roll out the Barrel.
After that raid, which could so easily have cost the lives of a
dozen Italian families, since the German death penalty was more
than an idle threat, the escapers evacuated their billets. Most
went back to the hills, unwillingly enough in the face of approach-
ing winter, and a few tried to make their way south to the lines,
but soon returned. With the front now static, that avenue, they
reported, was firmly blocked.
Simpson, Furman, Pollak and four others took up residence
in the church tower, and they decided, in spite of the anonymous
advice they had received, that their best hope lay in Rome. The
journey was organized by Pollak, who almost alone still dared to
be seen abroad in Sulmona, and although he was frequently
stopped, he always managed to talk his way out of trouble. When
the morning train puffed out of Sulmona on December 8 it con-
tained about a hundred Germans, a handful of Italians, and seven
Allied escapers, accompanied by two Italian girls Iride and her
sister, Maria. Their tickets had been obtained by Pollak and the
girls, each of whom had purchased three at the booking-office,
but during the journey Iride, in conversation with the conductor,
discovered that because of the number of refugees flooding into
Rome, an order had been made forbidding entrance to anybody
without a permit signed by the German military governor. The
party decided that a couple of guards on a country road would
be a less formidable obstacle than half a dozen at a station barrier,
and luck was with them, for the train halted, quite unaccount-
ably, in the middle of nowhere, while still ten kilometres short of
Rome. Seven men and two girls, all carrying suitcases, jumped
down, and made off across the tracks and, without interest, the
Germans on the train watched them go.
It was Joe Pollak again who got them through the road-block:
his smooth line of talk, backed up by hysterical demonstrations by
the girls, convinced the Italian guard that they were all members
of one family, bombed out of Sulmona, and now making their
way to their only surviving relative in Rome. The German guard
at the post, contemptuous of the whole affair, left everything to
the Italian, who eventually let all nine pass, with only a glance at
their false identity cards.
Iride led them to a small hotel in Via Cavour, the wide road
running from the main railway station to the Foro Romano,
centre of the fantastic ruins of ancient Rome. Ironically, this
took them right past the station which they had been at such pains
to avoid, but the hotel itself was quiet, and kept by a proprietor
not fussy about the identity of his guests. The two girls collected
some food from a near-by restaurant, and after the meal Pollak
and Iride set off for the Vatican, where it was assumed that he
was going to contact a British diplomat.
"You can't imagine what it was like when he got back yester-
day evening," said Furman. "He was in a state of obvious ex-
citement, and told us we would never guess who he had been with.
Everybody demanded to know at once, and I imagine Bill's face
and mine must have been a picture when he said 'Major Deny.'
He practically went through the third-degree treatment, but he
wouldn't tell us anything except that you wanted to see me."
I hurried off down the corridor to collect the waiting Pollak.
"I owe you an apology," I said, as soon as we got back to the
monsignor's room. "The reason I separated you was because I
thought you might be a stool-pigeon. From what John has told
me, I now know I couldn't have been more wrong. You have
done a wonderful job of work, and I apologize for having doubted
Pollak showed no signs of concern at the discovery that I had
been treating him as a traitor, and I realized that the inscruta-
bility, which had no doubt stood him in good stead in many
dangerous situations at Sulmona, was likely to be a valuable asset
to the escape organization in Rome. I had already earmarked Fur-
man for a place in the organization, and I now knew that Pollak,
with his even greater command of languages, would be no less of
an acquisition. I took both men completely into my confidence,
and outlined what was being done for escapers in and around
They were both captivated by the exploits of the monsignor,
and Furman, who had yet to meet him, was so intrigued by the
idea of a^ Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican that he kept asking
me questions about his character. I was always learning new
things about him myself, and was able to give a glittering illus-
tration. Rummaging around the untidy papers on the desk, I
found a heavy gold chain, something like those worn by English
mayors. "Every link is of solid gold," I explained. "It was given
to the monsignor by a Jew just before he set off south to try to
join our people on the other side of the lines. I don't know whether
he got through or not, but I do know that his family are well
looked after. He had the foresight to put them in the care of the
monsignor and each single link in that chain will keep them
fully provided for a month."
I told them that they, too, were worth their weight in gold,
and could be gifts from heaven to the organization.
I explained that we were seated inside the Vatican's protective
wall, but were not actually inside the Vatican City; we were on
what is called extra-territorial property. "All the same," I said,
"I can easily show you how to get inside and have yourselves com-
fortably interned for the duration. All you have to do is to turn
left instead of right as you leave here, and walk through the back
gate. If you tried to get in through the main gates you would
certainly be turned back, but from here you can walk straight
through to the gendannerie, give yourself up, and spend a nice
quiet time until our troops reach Rome. Any takers ?"
Both scorned the idea of a peaceful internment, and instead
demanded to know when they could get down to a job of work.
Then consider yourselves on the staff as from now," I beamed
Sorry about one thing, though I can't offer you any red tabs
to sew on your uniforms. Only a cup of tea to celebrate."
"Fine," said Funnan, "but before we start the bun-fight I
should tell you that just as we were leaving the hotel Bill Simpson
NO RED TABS 8l
said, 'If there's a job of work to be done put in a word for me.* Is
this the right time to do it ?"
"When you get back tell Bill he's joined. And now let's have
that brew up I don't suppose either of you has had a decent cup
of tea for months."
As I put on the kettle I felt enormously elated : I had started
the day with a faint hope that I might be able to enrol one military
assistant, had later acquired two, and had ended up with three,
all of whom spoke Italian with some fluency. All would be able to
find their way about Rome, and each would be a distinct acquisi-
As we sipped our tea, and talked about some of the problems
of keeping hundreds of men at large in enemy territory, John
Funnan asked why we did not get more men inside the Vatican.
This question was put in different forms by others later, and my
explanation was put this way.
"There is a hell of an inquiry when anybody does get in, and
you can bet your boots that if we started pushing people through
it would soon be traced back to one person, which would put him
and us all in a very tricky position. But there is another reason.
The Germans have been reasonably tolerant about the neutrality
of the Vatican up to now, but if we start filling the place up with
escapers they will simply march in, put all our chaps back in the
bag, and close the legation. That would mean sacrificing the wel-
fare of all the hundreds we are maintaining outside Rome for the
sake of the few, at best, that we could get into the Vatican."
"In other words," said John, "at the point where your organiza-
tion comes in, the escaper can consider the Vatican ruled out?"
That was the position in a nutshell.
Pollak's forged identity documents were excellent in every re-
spect, and we could not do much to improve them beyond the
addition of some papers basing him in Rome, but the photograph
on John Furman's Italian identity card showed him as a rather
seedy tramp, with a scarf wound tightly round his neck. I gazed
at it sadly, and sighed, "What is the Royal Artillery coming to?"
"I couldn't help it," said Funnan ruefully, "I hadn't got a
collar and tie."
The kindred societies soon came into action to help the new-
comers. The French secretary, De Vial, took money from me to
them at their hotel, and two Jugoslavs took the escapers in pairs
82 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
to a warehouse, where they were fitted out with fresh clothing
from the stocks of a relief organization run by Capuchin monks.
Monsignor O'Flaherty organized social calls by several of his
priests on the hotel-bound group, and I arranged for the Italian
girls, Iride and Maria, to return to Sulmona with fresh supplies of
money for the ex-prisoners still hiding there.
It was more difficult to fix billets for the three men I wanted
in action in the city, but the Free French undertook to find a
temporary home for the new staff, while I arranged for the others
to go "up the hill" to our safest hiding-place. That was the only
description used for the Collegio Americano. Situated on the top
of a high hill on the western outskirts of the city, it had been
brought into use by a former corporal in the Pope's bodyguard,
one Antonio Call, who rounded up a few Allied escapers on his
own, and ensconced himself there to look after them. Small adap-
tions to the outbuildings had created the perfect hide, for, if
necessary, a pretty large number of men, but to preserve its
security we ruled that those who went there did so on the under-
standing that they did not move again until our troops occupied
Rome. They had pleasant surroundings, reasonable comfort,
above average safety, and perhaps the best meals of any of our
larger groups, but against these advantages "the hill" was in the
nature of an internment camp.
Such a billet was, of course, useless for Furman, Simpson, and
Pollak, but De Vial managed to find temporary accommodation
for them with a family in a working-class flat at Tor Pignatara,
a suburb in the south-east although this, apparently, entailed
the eviction of a Frenchman who had been lodging there.
Pasqualino Perfetti, the greasy pseudo-priest, my first contact
in Rome, was now spending most of his time as a sort of billeting
agent for the French who, unlike Monsignor O'Flaherty, were
able to pay him sizeably for his services and he was sent by De
Vial to guide my three 'staff officers' to their temporary quarters,
where they discovered that the evicted Frenchman was still in
possession of the smaller of the only two beds.
Next day they reported for duty, having come in from their
suburb by train and trolley-bus, during the rush hour. This taught
them, the hard way, a new aspect of the lesson that in Rome it
was necessary to do as the Romans do, for strong shoulders and
sharp elbows were essential to find a place on the crowded public
NO RED TABS 83
transport. The porters had been warned of their impending
arrival, and they were shown straight up to Monsignor O'Fla-
herty's room, where I was waiting for them with the monsignor
and John May.
Introductions were scarcely complete before John May busied
himself in the unexpected task of cooking porridge. "I heard you
had dystentery," he told Furman, setting before him the steam-
ing dish and a jug of cream. "This is the best thing in the world
for it." It was also, Furman told me later, the best porridge he
ever ate; and I, who had sampled John May's cooking on several
occasions, could believe it.
Together the five of us mapped out the division of duties.
Broadly, we should still rely on the priests to do most of the
finding of new billets, but Furman, Simpson, and Pollak would
take over much of the dangerous work of guiding escapers, issuing
money, and delivering supplies. In her overcrowded little flat
Mrs Chevalier was building up a sort of cache of food, from
which came supplies for the Via Firenze and Via Chelini flats.
This, and food for other 'cells/ had to be collected from her, and
carted about Rome in suitcases, so I decided that my three new
assistants should spend the rest of their first day familiarizing
themselves with the routes and the tram services. After lunch
with the monsignor, they set off in the company of two Maltese
priests to call on Mrs Chevalier, with whom they left money and
requests for further purchases from the various black-market con-
tacts she had developed, and then went on to visit the flat in Via
Firenze, and the more luxurious apartment at Via Chelini.
Pollak was completely at home in the false identity described
on the papers he had obtained at Sulmona, and the documents
I had given Furman and Simpson invested them with identities of
genuine Italians. The cards were based on Naples, which was now
safely in British hands, and therefore beyond the reach of any
really thorough check by the Germans, but we had gone to great
pains, by the use of Italian directories and with the aid of local
knowledge of some of the priests, to ensure that the names and
addresses were capable of standing up to any ordinary investiga-
ton. There were plenty of false identity documents floating about
Rome at that time, but I imagine ours were among the best.
Sometimes they were virtually perfect, as in the case of one
escaper who took over, in its entirety, the identity of an Irishman
84 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
who had died early in the war, but whose documents, including
the invaluable Irish passport, had been thoughtfully preserved by
one of the priests.
With their new identities and their new suits, Furman, Simp-
son, and Pollak found they could move about Rome with reason-
able freedom, and their understanding of Italian gave them con-
fidence. Not only could they ask for obvious things, but they had
a comfortable awareness of what people around them were saying.
The secret agent who does not understand the language of the
country in which he is operating is like a deaf man trying to cross
a busy road : the only dangers of which he is aware are those he
can see. Pollak, with the advantage of latin appearance added to
linguistic accomplishment, could pass as an Italian even among
Italians, and the willowy Simpson could certainly count on fool-
ing most Germans, while John Furman, with reasonable know-
ledge of both enemy languages, had a system of his own which
he said could not fail. If he was engaged in conversation by
Italian Fascists he would pretend to be German, and in the
presence of Germans he would be a swaggering Italian Fascist.
The three TDilleting officers,* as they came to be known, went
into action straight away, and they had been at work for only
about three days when I received from them, through one of the
priests, a plaintive SOS pleading for permission to use carrozze
to convey provisions from Mrs Chevalier's to the flats. They had
apparently been fighting a losing battle, encumbered with heavy
suitcases, against the determined tram-travelling populace of
Rome. Although they would be more conspicuous in an open
cab, I knew from experience of the risk of detection on a tram,
so I considered the small extra cost justified.
As they became accustomed to the work they split up the billets
among themselves, to avoid duplication and reduce unnecessary
travelling, and Furman and Simpson, always close friends, dis-
covered that it was not impossible to enjoy a measure of social
life. They usually had to meet during the day to sort out details of
their work, and decided they might as well combine business with
pleasure by arranging a rendezvous in some pleasant place, where
they could either eat or drink.
They lunched at some of the better restaurants, often close to
German officers or leading Fascists, and found a fashionable bar
where, apart from other attractions, there was an attendant who
NO RED TABS 85
was no lover of Germans. The barman, Felix, who had once
worked in London, quickly sensed that his new customers were
engaged on some sort of activity likely to engender official dis-
approval, although he may have thought no more than that they
were black-market operators which, after all, was not so far
from the truth. At all events, he accepted them as friends, and
could always be relied on to reach up towards one particular
bottle of little-used liqueur on the high shelf behind him whenever
danger threatened. This hint enabled Furman and Simpson to
take their leave with reasonable speed.
Their social circle did not really expand, however, until they
were introduced to an Italian film director named Renzo Lucidi,
and his wife, Adrienne, who had been among Monsignor
O'Flaherty's staunchest allies from the start. Renzo was by birth
half Danish and by inclination wholly anti-Fascist, while his wife
was French, and there was never any doubt about where her
sympathies lay. They had a son of twelve, and Adrienne had also
a son of eighteen, born in France by a former marriage, and the
four of them lived in a pleasant and well-appointed apartment
When they suggested that all three of the billeting officers should
take up residence with them I approved, because the Lucidi home
in Via Scialoia was much closer to Mrs Chevalier's and the two
fiats, and was also much better placed than suburban lodgings
for the organization of billets in the city. The billeting officers
themselves approved, of course.
Although the Lucidis' flat shared a block with the home of a
leading Fascist family, it was the accepted meeting-place of many
of the principal anti-Fascists in Rome, including a number of
curvaceous young film stars, who brought a new glamour into
the life of the ex-prisoners-of-war.
Renzo and Adrienne were keen opera-goers, and Simpson, the
erstwhile double-bass player, and his companions welcomed with
joy the suggestion that they should go along as well. In time their
visits became quite frequent, and Pollak went so far as to intro-
duce some of the other escapers under his care to the delights of
One evening, at the head of a long and somewhat restive queue
at the booking-office, Pollak was questioning the clerk and then
turning to interpret to the two escapers who were with him, and
who could not make up their minds which seats to have. As Pollak
86 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
turned once again to the booking-office he noticed that the man
standing right beside him was a tall German officer, who, in
pointed, perfect English, demanded, "Arc you going to be much
"No," replied Pollak, also in English. "We're leaving now."
And they did, with alacrity.
For Simpson and Furman, their first visit to the opera remained
the most memorable, for they emerged from it with a remarkable
trophy. They shared a box with Renzo and Adrienne Lucidi, and
had scarcely taken their places when into the adjoining box
stalked a heavily decorated German general and what appeared
to be his entire personal staff. During the first act Furman and
Simpson noticed that the attention of one of the general's A.D.G.'s,
a stiff-backed Prussian of early middle-age, strayed constantly
from the energetically vocal Italians on the stage to the handsome
profile of Adrienne a yard away. Adrienne, who had outgrown
youthful prettiness only to replace it with a mature, statuesque
beauty, softened by the ageless charm which is the most appealing
feature of women of her race, noticed the German's admiration
too, and leaned across to borrow his opera-glasses, which he
readily and gallantly surrendered.
The two Britons exchanged a wink, and when the interval
came they chaffed Adrienne. "You've made a conquest," they
told her. "Why don't you ask him for his autograph ?"
Adrienne arched her delicate eyebrows, and raised her shoulders
in an almost imperceptible shrug. "But of course," she replied.
At the end of the performance she pushed her programme
across the ledge between the two boxes, and, in French, asked
her Teutonic admirer if he would sign it.
"I will do better than that," said the German, beaming with
flattered pleasure, "I will get the general to autograph it for
Furman and Simpson watched, fascinated, as the German
general scrawled his name across the programme, which the
AJD.C. handed back to Adrienne with a bow. "Which of you is
to have it?" she asked them later, and when they tossed up for
it the memento went to Simpson. The two British officers studied
the signature with mounting delight: it was that of General
Maelzer himself the Military Governor of Rome.
It would have made a perfect postscript to this anecdote if I
had been able to record that the signature was received with
delirious joy at headquarters and rushed off to the printing-presses
for the production of hundreds of forged passes for escapers, and,
indeed, such a story has been circulated since the war, but there is
no truth in it. In point of fact, I gained some comfort from the
knowledge that the autograph was available for use, should we
ever need it, but, as the man responsible for the security of the
organization, I could not look upon this sort of adventure with
official approval, much as I was amused.
The truth was that the organization's documentation service
was now so good that we did not need to rely on blatant forgeries
of that sort. Furman, Simpson, and I were in possession of rare
passes, made out specially for us, and signed by the German
Minister in Rome himself; and who would want a forgery when
he was equipped with the real thing? I obtained ours through
an experiment about which I felt rather guilty, because it was
the only time I ever really took advantage of the Vatican Secre-
Through the inexhaustible ingenuity of John May and the
transfer of a little money among minor clerks, documents made
out in the names which the three of us were using came to be
inserted into a pile of others being sent from the Secretariat to the
German Ministry for the issue of passes, mainly for officials who
had to travel during the hours of the German-imposed curfew.
The trick worked perfectly. Passes for three British officers were
made out, signed by the German Minister, imposingly stamped
with the swastika surmounted by an eagle, and then, by more
sleight of hand, returned to John May, and eventually to me. I
never compromised the incalculable value of these three passes
by attempting to repeat the experiment, but it always gave me
singular satisfaction to realize that in a city of forgeries each of
the principal officers of our organization held an unmistakably
genuine German pass.
The success was all the more surprising in view of the growing
signs that the Germans were aware that British escaped prisoners
were in their midst. Indeed, they could scarcely fail to be aware
of it, since the editor of a leading Fascist newspaper had printed
a scathing article about fashionable restaurants in which escaped
British officers were to be seen brazenly eating expensive meals,
while the poor of Rome had difficulty in finding enough food.
88 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
The only result of this, so far as I could see, was that some of the
best eating-houses in Rome were promptly closed down by order
of the Military Government, to the chagrin of the German
officers, who were their principal patrons.
Security of the organization had become my major concern,
for apart from the hundreds of escapers in the country, we now
had men billeted in more than forty different places in Rome
itself, and it was difficult to plan the continuous fetching and
carrying of supplies so that there was no regular pattern of visits
which might attract attention. In the interrogation of new arrivals,
to which much of my time was devoted, I began to pay par-
ticular regard to the temperament of the escapers, and earmarked
those unlikely to endure the frustration of lying low for several
weeks as priority cases for sending to the country areas, where
they could expect to move about rather more freely.
The never-ending growth of the organization presented many
problems beyond that of security, and the finding of sufficient
food and other supplies was a constant headache. Provisioning
arrangements might have broken down altogether, had it not
been for the ubiquitous John May, who, although confined to the
Vatican, contrived to maintain contacts all over the city, and
knew at once when any stock of food or cheap clothing found
its way to the black market anywhere in Rome. Even when
supplies were unearthed, delivery remained a problem; the
rationing system meant that Italian families were unable to ob-
tain food through the ordinary channels for any escapers in their
care, so bulky items, including meat and bread, had to be trans-
ported physically to the individual Cells' as well as to the two
flats. But fortunately a growing number of the Italian 'padrones'
established their own black-market contacts, and in these cases
I was able to send money, which was much simpler to deliver.
The amount of money I was spending on behalf of H.M.
Government was beginning to reach impressive proportions. At
first the British Minister had been able to supply odd thousands
of lire through normal financial channels, but as the number of
escapers sky-rocketed, demand outpaced supply, and it took
strenuous efforts on the part of Sir D'Arcy Osborne to evolve a
system for the conversion of Foreign Office pound notes in London
into lire notes in Rome.
We were not extravagant, paying out only 120 lire a day for
NO RED TABS 89
the keep of each prisoner in Rome, and substantially less in the
country. In purchasing terms 120 lire represented about four
shillings, and few of the 'padrones' could make anything out of
that. In the first six weeks up to December 9, 1943, the organiza-
tion distributed 69,000 lire, but in the next four weeks the million
mark was topped. I was now collecting from Sir D'Arcy Osborne
sums of up to 400,000 lire at a time, and I was also extracting,
though with rather more difficulty, various contributions from the
American Minister, Mr Harold Tittman, towards the cost of
maintaining United States servicemen who had entered the
escape line. In the main these were men who had baled out of
crippled bomber aircraft.
I had a shrewd suspicion that in the long run I should be ex-
pected to account for these sums, and bought a cheap school
exercise-book. It was the simplest form of ledger, with income on
one side and outgoings on the other, and I doubt if ever in the
history of field accountancy were such vast transactions recorded
in so crude a form. I also asked, wherever possible, for plain and
not too revealing receipt chits, to relate to the entries in the
'ledger,' and these were dutifully buried by Captain Byrnes each
night in the Vatican gardens, where they would be safe even if the
Germans decided on a raid.
To make sure that the 'ledger' would be of little value to the
enemy, each entry consisted of nothing more than a date, a code
name, and an amount of money. Everybody in the organization
was given a code name, by which alone they were known for all
purposes of conversation and communication, and, as a further
protection, I ruled that the code names of "Mount" (the British
Minister), and "Till" (the Secretary to the Legation, Mr Hugh
Montgomery), were never to be committed to paper at all.
Many of the code names gave a strong due to the individuals.
Thus, Monsignor O'Flaherty became "Golf," in recognition of
his passion for the game, which he had frequently played with
the most modest of handicaps with Count Ciano, Mussolini's
son-in-law and foreign minister. I was "Patrick," and the three
military assistants were simply "John," "Bill," and "Joe" an
arrangement of which they approved heartily. The Irish Father
Claffey was "Eyerish," dear old Father Thomas Lenan was
"Uncle Tom," the Dutch Father Ansdmo Musters was "Dutch-
pa," the Maltese Mrs Chevalier was "Mrs M.," and Brother
gO THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Robert Pace was "Whitebows," in recognition of the most distinc-
tive feature of the habit worn by his Order. The Maltese Father
Borg found his name reversed, and became "Grobb," and the
name of the Swiss caretaker at the British Embassy, Secundo
Constantini, was abbreviated to "Sek." Some of the code names
were chosen with no logical reason, as with Owen Snedden
("Horace"), Father John Buckley ("Spike"), and the unfortu-
nate Count Sarsfield Salazar ("Emma"), while others were more
obvious, as in the case of Father Flanagan ("Fanny"), Father
Galea ("Sailor"), and, of course, poor Renzo Lucidi, who inevit-
ably became "Rinso."
By Christmas we were looking after more than 2000 escapers
in the country areas and about eighty in Rome, and I decided
that things looked bright enough to justify a modicum of Christ-
mas cheer : small sums of extra cash, to enable the men to buy
additional food and comforts usually cigarettes, which were
scarce and very expensive and among the men in Rome we
distributed a few bottles of wine, and such small luxuries as the
black market could produce.
My own Christmas began impressively with a midnight service
in the chapel that occupied most of the ground floor of the college.
The monsignor had invited me diffidently, for in all the weeks that
I lived under his care he never once tried to sell religion to me.
Right at the beginning of our acquaintanceship he had said, "I
realize you are an Anglican, but you need not be afraid that I am
going to spend all my time talking to you about the Catholic
faith. Any time you feel like talking religion, I shall be happy to
join in, but if you don't I shall never preach at you." He never
did, but I frequently took advantage of his offer of discussion,
and learned much from him, and from his tolerance and re-
straint Religion was not only his vocation but his over-riding
academic interest, and among his three doctorates were those of
Divinity and Canon Law.
He always ate frugally, and Christmas dinner, served by the
German sisters, who now accepted me with something like affec-
tion as the Irish Patrick Deny, was no great gastronomic ex-
perience, but at a time when meat was very scarce, even a slice
of mutton was most welcome, if hardly festive. Certainly, there
was nothing sparse about the cheerful goodwill that flowed about
the monsignor's room throughout that day, and it seemed to me
NO RED TABS gi
that visitors were in and out in a never-ending procession. There
were priests of half a dozen different nationalities, who were all
helping in the organization's work, diplomats and their families
from the French, Polish, Jugoslav and other legations, Mrs Kier-
nan and her two daughters from the Irish Embassy, and a large
number of unusual characters, who had been in hiding in various
parts of the college since before my arrival.
Among these was an Austrian ex-mayor, with whom I had
struck up a firm friendship. He was anti-Nazi from the earliest
days, and had fled to Italy when Hitler's troops marched into
Austria. When Italy went to war at the side of Germany he took
refuge in the Collegio Teutonicum. From him I received my
most valuable Christmas present, a gold pencil, which I still
treasure, and with it a Christmas card on which was a message,
in which he described me as "the finest English officer I have
met." I should have been embarrassed, had I not realized that
he had probably never met any other English officers. However,
I was moved by his kindness.
Looking back over the previous few weeks, it seemed to me
that the Rome Organization was developing well. Two thousand
escapers and evaders were adequately clothed and fed as part
of an organized force. They regularly received information and
instructions from British officers, while their welfare was watched
by more than twenty priests.
It might have seemed that the organization was playing no
really useful part in the Allied war effort, and this point of view
was certainly widely held and frequently aired among the Com-
munist organizations with which we were in touch. This over-
looked three important factors : first, escapers who were recap-
tured would have been sent to Germany, where camp conditions
were deteriorating, and where, as it turned out, they would have
been incarcerated for another soul-destroying year and a half;
secondly, all the food and other materials consumed by escapers
were, in fact, enemy resources, and our men were indirectly help-
ing the Allied war effort by absorbing a good deal of the enemy's
productive effort; thirdly, our troops would reach Rome long
before the Allies began to batter on the walls of Hitler's Germany,
and would find a couple of thousand men, in reasonably good
physical condition, ready to rejoin our forces. Additionally, a
proportion of the bill could reasonably be set against the
92 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
intelligence service it was providing, and the goodwill it was de-
veloping among thousands of ordinary Italian people. Although
it was impossible to convince the Communist associates, such
thoughts as these comforted me as I totted up the staggering
figures in the schoolbook ledger.
But any complacency I may have been developing was shaken
by three unexpected developments which caused concern. The
first was the decision of the German Military Government to
change the curfew hour from 11 P.M. to 7 P.M. This, the penalty
of some not very worthwhile sabotage attempts by the Jugoslavs
and Italian Communists, meant that helpers who were already
hard pressed were forced to rearrange the system of visits and
supply deliveries that we had built up.
A second, and in some ways more serious, development was
the closing of the street door through which we literally kept in
touch with the world outside. The Vatican authorities, possibly
with the aid of a hint from German military sources, had ap-
parently become aware of the volume of this traffic, and at a
single stroke had made it impossible for anyone to reach our
headquarters without going through some kind of check-point.
It happened shortly before Joe Pollak was due to call, and he
did, in fact, arrive to find the way barred. Unaware of what had
happened, he hammered so persistently on the gate that a Roman
gendarme walked up, and demanded to know what he was doing.
"Nothing," replied Joe meekly, and inexplicably the gendarme
allowed him to walk away.
John Furman was also due to arrive that morning, but we
were able to arrange for "Horace" (Father Snedden) to go out and
intercept him. "Horace" showed him the only remaining way
of getting into contact with headquarters, through the Porta Santa
Marta, a gate behind the colonnades on the left of St Peter's, to
a post of the Swiss Guard, where he had to produce his Italian
identity card and state who he wished to see. He could not, of
course, ask for the mythical "Mr Deny," and if he asked for the
monsignor it was still a matter of chance whether the guard
would give him a chit to enter or merely put through a message
on the internal telephone. The immediate effect of this change
was that we had to cut down visits to a minimum, and rely more
and more on notes.
The third ill omen was a report, brought back by Lieutenant
NO RED TABS 93
Ristic Cedomir, a Royalist Jugoslav officer, on his return from
distributing funds in the Arda Valley, where there had originally
been about 600 Allied escapers, about half of whom made their
way to Switzerland or warmer parts of Italy. He reported that
"owing to the imprudence of prisoners rather than unreliable
Italian inhabitants," the police had arrested eighteen Italians, and
had offered rewards for information about the source of supply of
money for escaped prisoners-of-war.
This meant disaster for the Italian helpers through the lack of
caution of the men they were helping, and I had to think up
immediate and drastic steps to lighten security. As I worked
out my plans, I could not foresee that I was on the threshold of
a New Year nightmare which threatened to bring down the
whole organization. Worse was about to befall.
New Tear Nightmare
IN underground work in war-time it is generally a mistake to
abandon the interests of security for the sake of expediency. If I
had not weakened in my decision to clear the Via Firenze and
Via Chelini flats of escapers by December 31, the worst part of
the January disaster would have been averted. But the billeting
officers, who were the first to express doubts about keeping such
large numbers of people in one place, had been having great
difficulty in finding other accommodation, so I gave a ten-day
postponement for the 'eviction order/
Despite the inconvenience of the early curfew and the firmly
closed street door, there was nothing in the early days of January
to cause concern about the general situation in Rome, and I was
concentrating on a tidying up of the organization's finances.
I was, in fact, constantly worried by the thought that the
supply of money, the source of which was not known to any of
my assistants, might suddenly dry up.
Both Furman and Simpson regularly put forward the request
that the hidden soldiers, who at home were piling up substantial
sums in army pay, should be allowed to draw some money for
extra comforts against their swelling 'credits,' and both also urged
that officer-escapers should be paid money against 'cheques' on
their bank accounts. I imagine they considered me unreasonable
in turning them down flat, but I had no alternative : it was not
that I had any moral objection to the escapcrs spending their
own idle money; it was simply that the physical supply of lire did
The only ways in which additional currency notes could be
obtained were by stealing them or borrowing them, so I sug-
gested to Furman and Simpson that they might be able to raise
a loan privately, repayable after the Allies reached Rome, from
which they could at least cash officers' cheques. Furman thought
this a splendid possibility, and, through a friend of Renzo Lucidi,
began discussions for a sizeable loan.
The suggestion also arose that Joe Pollak should revisit Sul-
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 95
mona, where all was not as it should be. Iride was still taking
money to the escapers, but the distribution system was breaking
down. As Pollak's identity documents were based on Sulmona,
and Pollak himself was prepared, and even anxious, to go, I
thought it would be a good thing, but as it turned out he was not
to have the chance. Neither did Furman finish his negotiations
with Lucidi's friend.
On January 6 Furman, Simpson, and Pollak arrived together
at Porta Santa Marta in a state of considerable concern, and
were fortunate enough to make contact with Monsignor
O'Flaherty, who brought them all up to his room. "It looks like
trouble," said Furman solemnly, as they entered.
The previous evening, quite by chance, Furman and Renzo
Lucidi had met in the street a French officer, Henri Payonne,
who had come into Rome with Iride. They had no more than a
few minutes because the curfew was almost on them, but Furman
gave Payonne the telephone number of Lucidi's flat, and told him
to ring through later, warning him not to reveal the number to
Iride. He gave this warning because it was obviously inadvisable
that she should learn where he was staying.
Early that morning the telephone rang at the flat, and the
voice that spoke was that of Iride, who somehow or other had
got hold of the number which Furman had tried to keep from
her. She asked to speak to "Giuseppe," the name by which Joe
Pollak had been known at Sulmona, and told him she must see
him at once. "It is vital," she said.
Pollak said he would go to her as soon as he could, and, after
hanging up, discussed the situation with Furman and Simpson,
but within a few minutes Iride was on the telephone again, plead-
ing with Pollak to go to her at once. They were now all suspicious
and worried, and when the telephone rang again for the third
time Renzo picked it up. There was no one, he said, by the name
of Giuseppe in the house.
"There must be! I have just spoken to him," shouted
"You must be mistaken," said Renzo coolly, and replaced the
They were in a bedroom, debating the best course to take,
when the telephone rang yet again. This time the call was taken
by Adrienne Lucidi. Bursting into the bedroom, she almost
96 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
screamed at them, "Quick! You must escape! They're coming
The caller had been the Frenchman, Payonne, who in urgent
tone had told her that they were all in danger, and she must get
the escapers out of her flat as quickly as possible. Furman, Simp-
son, and Pollak, immediately connecting this call with the mys-
terious three from Iride, packed immediately, removed all traces
of their occupation, and left. They decided that it would be better
if even Lucidi did not know their whereabouts, and they agreed
to stay temporarily at the Via Chelini flat. After dumping their
luggage, they came straight to me with the news.
I had been aware for some time that Iride was a potential
danger, for clearly she resented the way that the escapers had
grown away from her after she had helped them to reach Rome,
My impression was that she was of the unstable type of character,
in which a little jealousy could easily turn affection and loyalty
into indifference and treachery.
"It looks like a damned trap," I said. "Joe, I don't think we
dare let you keep that date with Iride."
"But supposing it really is something vital to our people at
Sulmona," said Pollak* "We can't just ignore it we might be
letting them all down.
"There's another thing," said Pollak slowly. 'That girl knows
practically everything about the Sulmona organization. And she
knows all about 'Patrick,' too."
I agreed that if she started talking there would be a hell of a
mess, but the risk of letting Pollak walk straight into a trap seemed
very real, for it looked as though she was already in contact with
We talked round and round the problem, and I could see that
the others, while agreeing that both possibilities were dangerous,
did not share my view. Finally, I decided to permit Pollak to go
to Iride, chiefly because that was what he himself wanted to do.
"It's the only possible way of finding out what all the mystery
is about," he said, and I had to agree.
We took such security measures as were possible. Pollak emptied
his pockets, leaving his documents and personal valuables, in-
cluding his wrist-watch, and we agreed that if he were not
back by three o'clock we would assume he had walked into a
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 97
Pollak left at noon, and shortly afterwards Bill Simpson went
out to continue the routine work, leaving the monsignor, John
Furman, and myself in the growing tenseness of the little room.
Three o'clock struck, and we looked at each other. Silence, preg-
nant with foreboding, filled the room until shortly before four
o'clock, when it was suddenly shattered by the shrill ringing of the
Monsignor O'Flahcrty was up from his chair and across the
room in a stride, his face alight with expectancy. But, as he
listened, I could see that this was not the hoped for message, and
when he put down the receiver he was obviously worried.
"That was the man at the gate," he told us. "He says there is
an Italian laddie down there who says he will give his message to
no one but the man called Patrick. Do you think it might be a trap
to identify you?"
"Sounds possible," I agreed. "In any case, there is no point
in my going down there because I can't speak Italian, and cer-
tainly you mustn't be mixed up in this. John, it looks like you:
make sure no one is watching you, and try to find out what you
can from the young Ite."
Furman was back in a few minutes with a letter in his hand.
"It was the son of the proprietor of Iride's boarding-house," he
said. "All he knew was that he had been told to hand this to
Patrick, but I persuaded him to give it to me."
"It's from Iride, but the damn thing's in Italian," I said as I
opened the note. "Here, John tell us what it's all about."
Dearest Patrick [Furman read]. Yesterday at midday I was
arrested, and I got the news that my mother, sister, and my baby,
as well as Flora and her family and Dino, had also been arrested,
and were in the hands of the German command. We were be-
trayed by Captain "Dick," who is not a captain but a simple Red
Cross orderly who has divulged everything. They are here look-
ing for Giuseppe [the name by which she knew Pollak], and at all
costs must take him. I begged Giuseppe to come to me because I
am very sick, but I am guarded. I think the arrest of Giuseppe will
be the saving of us all. I won't talk unless threatened that I en-
danger the life of my baby by not doing so, in which case I shall
poison myself. I beg you, however, to save the lives of my baby
and my poor mother. You must not believe if they take Giuseppe
that it is a betrayal. He is of no interest to them they only want
98 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
to know who supplies the money, and I repeat they will never
know from me I prefer death. I am only afraid that Giuseppe
may talk if he believes himself betrayed.
Pollak had, indeed, been betrayed. He was, of course, already
on his guard when he reached Iride's room at the boarding-
house, and suddenly he noticed the shape of a man silhouetted
against the glass panel of a door opposite. In a flash he turned
on his hed, but two plain-clothes men pounced after him. He
dashed out of the building, along the street, and into the entrance
to a big block of flats, only to find himself trapped. Behind the
main door there was another door, closed and locked, and for
Pollak there was no possibility of escape from the tiny vestibule
as the two Gestapo men entered, their revolvers drawn.
I cursed myself for having permitted Pollak to be recaptured,
but I was not the only person filled with remorse. When the
French officer, Payonne, had told Adrienne Lucidi to get the
escapers out of her flat he had also warned her that under no
circumstances was Pollak to keep his appointment with Iride. If
we had been told of that message we should have known for
certain that the appointment was a trap, but in her panic over
the first warning Adrienne overlooked the second, and did noth-
ing about it. When she realized the importance of that small
omission, and its cost, she broke down completely.
As soon as we knew that Pollak was in German hands I sent
agents out in all directions to find out what had happened to
him. I learned that Pollak had been arrested by men sent from
Sulmona, and both he and Iride were taken back there that
night. There were thus no signs that the Germans had yet found
out anything of importance about the Rome Organization, and
I was certain that the Italian families who had been arrested at
Sulmona would not even be aware that it existed.
On the other hand, there was Iride. Her promise not to talk
had been pretty thoroughly qualified, and, in any case, I could
not place much reliance on it after the events of the last few
hours, so I had to work on the assumption that everything known
to Iride would in due course become known to the Germans.
The Lucidis' flat was already in the clear, and the Free French
had put Payonne out of the way, but there was little I could do
about my own position, and nothing at all that I could do for
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 99
Pollak. Although, so far as I knew, Iride was not aware of the
monsignor's part in the organization, it was obvious that if she
put the Gestapo on to me he would inevitably become involved,
but he brushed this point aside unconcernedly, and told me I
worried too much about the unnecessary details.
I decided that the Via Chelini apartment, which was now
housing twelve people, must be cleared as soon as possible, and
devoted most of the day after Pollak's arrest to organizing alterna-
tive accommodation. New billets were found for Lieutenants
Furman and Simpson, and it was arranged that they and the other
occupants of the flat should move out the following day, but be-
fore any changes could be put into operation I was stopped in
my trades by a blow from another direction a blow which was
all the more unexpected in its impact because it was not aimed
at the Rome Organization at all.
Like the Western fanner who drills for water, fails to find it,
but strikes oil, the Gestapo were digging for Italian Communists
and unearthed escaped prisoners-of-war. In their more or less
constant struggle against the Communists, whom they blamed
(not unjustifiably) for much of their discomfiture in Rome, they
had hatched a typically cunning scheme.
During the morning of Saturday, January 8, two men in rain-
coats and trilby hats called on an Italian widow in no way con-
nected with the organization, whose son, a Communist, was held
prisoner in the grotesquely named Regina Coeli (Queen of
Heaven), a great, grim mountain of a prison on the north bank
of the Tiber, only a few hundred yards from my headquarters
at the Collegio Teutonicum. They told her that they had just
been released from the gaol, where they had arranged a plan for
the escape of her son, who was being constantly tortured, and
who would pretend to break down and offer to lead the Germans
to the hide-out of his Communist friends. His friends would, in
fact, be ready, and in the ambush the Germans would be killed,
and their prisoner would escape. The widow's part in this in-
genious scheme was to get all her son's Communist friends to-
gether and arrange the ambush, and she readily agreed to do so.
She took her two visitors to the flat of a man named Nebolante,
a leader of the Italian underground, who questioned them, and,
satisfied with their replies, invited them to stay for the midday
100 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
There was something grotesque about this meal, for it was
shared by an Italian resistance leader, two German Gestapo
agents, and two highly decorated British officers. Nebolante was,
in fact, 'padrone' to a couple of the most colourful characters on
the organization's roll Lieutenant "Tug" Wilson, D.S.O., the
c cloak and dagger 9 saboteur I had met on my first visit to the
Via Firenze flat, and Captain "Pip" Gardner, V.C., M.C., who
had been among the prisoners at Chieti. I had arranged for Gard-
ner to be brought into Rome, where he teamed up with Wilson,
and eventually they arranged their own billet at the house of
Nebolante. They went about Rome a good deal, were very much
at home, and on one occasion found themselves face to face with
John Furman and Joe Pollak during an interval at the opera.
Neither Wilson, the past-master at the art of operating behind
enemy lines, nor the gallant Gardner, had any enthusiasm for the
idea of lunching with two complete strangers whom they dis-
trusted, and after the men had gone they took Nebolante to task
for being so dangerously trusting. He was scoffing at their pessi-
mism when the strangers returned accompanied by a squad of
armed and uniformed S.S. men.
With their host, the two officers were bundled off, fuming, to
the Regina Coeli, leaving the Gestapo agents in the flat with
Nebolante's cook. The cook was an old man, not difficult to
frighten, and by some awful mischance he knew of the existence
of both our flats, at Via Firenze and Via Chelini. The breach in
our security went even further, for Nebolante's cook knew also
the secret signal that had to be given on the doorbells of the flats
to gain admission. Furman, Simpson, and I were unaware of this,
and my two lieutenants had agreed to meet at their temporary
billet in the Via Chelini flat at 2.30 P.M. to collect their baggage.
Simpson was first to arrive, and found there a disconcerting
newcomer a man who said he was Adolf Hitler. In fact, he
was an American Air Force sergeant, who had cracked his head
when he baled out of a crippled bomber, and in due course had
been led, as a temporary measure, to the Via Chelini flat. He had
a form of concussion manifesting itself in a sequence of wild
delusions. He had an alarming habit of suddenly deciding that
he was either Hitler or the German air chief, Hermann Goering,
and plunging into noisy and delirious arguments with the entire
German General Staff.
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 101
Faced with this problem, somewhat unsympathetically out-
lined by the laconic Jugoslav, Bruno Buchner, who was more or
less in charge of the flat, Bill Simpson decided that the sergeant
would have to be got into a hospital. There were several small
hospitals run by various religious orders, where such a case could
be kept without too much risk, for clearly the unfortusate ser-
geant could not be inflicted on any Italian helpers already facing
Simpson had just left the flat to try and arrange something
when, in Via Chelini itself, he bumped into Lieutenant John Fur-
man, trotting nonchalantly to the flat as arranged.
"Hallo," he said, "what's up?"
"Plenty," said Simpson, and, after explaining briefly, told
him, "Go ahead as planned. Ill meet you at the billet as soon as
I've arranged for some one to shift this character."
"No," replied Furman. "One of us ought to stay in the flat
until he is moved, in case there is trouble. I'll wait until you get
It was a logical but fateful decision.
Furman went into the apartment, where our RA.M.C. doctor,
Captain Macauley, had already arrived, and was very concerned
about the American. They talked with the sergeant, who was
lucid for long enough to tell them, "If you want to know, I feel
lousy," before embarking upon a creditable, if unconscious,
imitation of the Fiihrer.
They were all impatient for Simpson's return, but it was fully
half an hour before the doorbell rang, the proper signal being
given. Bruno Buchner answered it, and Furman, hearing voices
in the hall, went out to join him a minute later, expecting to see
Simpson. Instead he saw at the doorway a small white-haired
Italian and two rather thin men, who kept their hats on.
"This is Nebolante's cook," said the Jugoslav, indicating the
old man. "He says he has bad news."
Furman, who had never seen the man before and did not like
the look of his companions, demanded, "Well, what is it ?"
Before the cook could answer, one of the thin men cut in,
"Nebolante's flat has been raided, and the Gestapo have got him
and Gardner and Wilson. We thought we should let you know."
Furman thanked the two men for calling, but said pointedly
he could not see why they had bothered to accompany the cook,
102 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
who could quite easily have delivered the message on his own.
This remark seemed to annoy the thin men, but as they turned
away, Furman asked quietly, "Before you go, would you mind
showing me your identity cards ?"
For answer the two men swung round, and pulled from their
pockets, not identity cards, but vicious squat revolvers. Simul-
taneously, there was a clatter in the passage outside, and half a
dozen S.S. men, armed with sub-machine-guns and pistols, burst
into the flat in a roar of shouted German commands.
They fanned out through the apartment, and within seconds
the two escapers, Biichner, the Jugoslav, and Herta, the Austrian
girl, who looked after them, were all lined up against a wall,
hands high above their heads.
"So ! We were too clever for you !" boasted one of the sleek
plain-clothes agents, who seemed to be in command of the opera-
tion. "Well, we shall have some more of your friends to keep you
company, besides Wilson and Gardner."
There was no knowing whether this meant the discovery of
other billets or even a raid on our headquarters at the Collegio
Teutonicum, and Furman's first thought was how to get a mes-
sage of warning to me and also keep Simpson away. There was
nothing he could do about it himself, but he had noted that the
prisoners lined up against the wall did not include two soldiers
who had been billeted in the basement Lance-Corporal T. W.
Dale and Gunner E. C. Jones. He hoped they had been able to
slip out through the back windows and get away; and that the
Germans had arrived by car and left it outside the building, for
this would alert Simpson to trouble. Desperately anxious to know
if they had, and hoping vaguely that he might be able to give
some sort of signal, Furman tried to edge his way towards the
window, but was roughly thrust back by a pistol in his ribs.
Meanwhile Simpson hurried back to the flat, strode across the
vestibule, and gave the secret signal on the doorbell. Furman's
heart sank as he heard the bell stutter, but there must have been
a fault in the circuit, for it failed to ring properly. One of the
S.S. men asked if the bell had rung, and when one of his com-
panions said he thought it had the soldier walked quite slowly
across the hall to the door.
Meanwhile Simpson, his finger still on the bell-push, had caught
sight of the Italian porter, frantically signalling to him to get out
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE I<>3
of sight. Without stopping to ask questions, he turned, and even
as the S.S. man was moving to the door, Simpson was racing
up the main stairs. As the German opened the door, Simpson
dropped full length along the first-floor landing. Furman, watch-
ing warily from inside, saw the S.S. man open the door to an
empty vestibule, and breathed again. Simpson, peering through
the banisters, saw a uniformed German emerge, look along the
vestibule, and testily jab the doorbell, which failed to emit any
sound at all, and realized that a providential electrical fault had
Undetected, he slipped out of the building by the back way,
and hurried straight to the Vatican, where he burst in on me,
white-faced, and reported shortly, cc Via Chelini's fallen."
I already knew, for Corporal Dale and Gunner Jones had in-
deed got clean away from the basement as the S.S. burst in above
them, and had made their way at once to the Swiss Legation,
where they left the all important message with one of the organiza-
tion's many friends. This message reached me almost immedi-
ately, but after Dale and Jones left the legation they walked
straight into a police check, and were immediately arrested,
Simpson, of course, could add little to the scanty knowledge
I already had about the raid, except by confirming that Funnan
was among those captured. It was obvious that the flat would be
kept under guard, and that any residents out at the time of the
raid would be taken as they returned. This is exactly what hap-
pened to Major D'Arcy Mander, of the Green Howards, who was
due to spend only one more night at the flat. He returned to find
himself grabbed by a couple of armed Germans. They bundled
him into a room by himself, and locked the door but forgot the
window. Mander promptly climbed out, found a billet for him-
self, and was never recaptured.
The immediate task was to find out exactly how many billets
had fallen, and to warn the occupants of any which survived to
remain indoors, in readiness for immediate evacuation if neces-
sary, for I had no way of knowing whether the Via Chelini raid
was an isolated lucky stroke by the Gestapo or a symptom of the
breakdown of the entire organization. One by one, with the aid
of Monsignor O'Flaherty, the priests were contacted, and asked
to find out what they could about the billets for which they were
responsible without exposing themselves to risk.
104 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
In general the billets were with private families, and a visit
from a priest would not therefore be suspicious. Even if a billet
had been detected by the Germans, a priest who called would not
necessarily be compromised. On the other hand, if a large number
of billets was under observation, and the Gestapo reported that
they were all visited by priests during one afternoon, the Germans
could scarcely fail to put two and two together and arrive at
Monsignor O'Flaherty. Thus, all the priests were warned that
they should not enter any billet until they had made reasonably
sure that it was not being watched.
I was particularly concerned about "Horace" (the New Zea-
land priest, Father Owen Snedden), for he had the dangerous
task of checking up on the other flat at Via Firenze, where a
routine pastoral call would be much more difficult to explain.
However, as he approached the block, Father Snedden slowed his
pace, walking contemplatively, and just before he reached the
main door he saw a silent but expressive warning signal from the
waiting Italian porter. Without faltering, Father Snedden walked
slowly on past the block, and, a short distance along Via Firenze,
was caught up by the porter, who walked beside him, and, in a
brief, urgent whisper, gave him the news.
"Bad news, I'm afraid," the priest told me on his return.
Assuming that the rot had started with Iride, the Sulmona girl
whose treachery had cost us Pollak, I cursed myself for having
failed to press ahead earlier with my plans to empty the two flats.
When I learned that Nebolante's flat had been the first billet to
fall that day I realized that I was probably blaming Iride un-
justly, and my second thoughts were confirmed when reports
came that Nebolante's cook had been seen cruising around Rome
in a car with Gestapo agents.
In a way this was reassuring, since the cook's knowledge of
the organization must be very limited, and I began to relax as,
one after the other, couriers returned with the information that
their groups of 'cells' were still secure.
In particular I was glad to hear that nothing disquieting had
happened down Mrs Chevalier's way. Nevertheless, the disaster
could not be minimized. We had lost both 'clearing house' flats
and one 'cell,' the Germans had captured John Furman, Dr
Macauley, eleven other escapers, Buchner, Herta, and Nebo-
lante, the Italian 'padrone.' Two days earlier we had lost Joe
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 105
Pollak, Iride and her f amily, and at least a dozen escapers, and
probably as many entire families in Sulmona itself.
The only consolation was that none of those captured knew
much about the organization except Furman, and none of the
priests had been compromised.
For Furman I felt particular concern, because the only hope
of preserving his life lay in his ability to establish his prisoner-of-
war status, and in any case his only way of avoiding rough
handling and, probably, torture was by convincing the Germans
that he was an ordinary escaped prisoner and not a member of
some sort of underground organization. Here there would be
difficulties because, apart from his smart civilian clothes and false
documents, Furman would probably have coded notes and re-
ceipts collected that day, and I knew, too, that he was in posses-
sion of an incriminatingly large sum of money, given to him that
morning. I confided my fears to Lieutenant Simpson.
"Thank heaven, John gave me 10,000 lire for my chaps when
we met this afternoon," he replied, "and I know that he had
already been round to 'Mrs M.,' and given her 10,000 too, so he
can't have much left/'
"Anything up to 15,000 lire," I corrected him.
Simpson whistled. "Too much !" he said quietly.
"Far too much," I agreed. "The Germans will never believe
that an ordinary escaper could have that sort of money. Let's
hope he managed to dump it."
"Well, after all, John has got dysentery," said Simpson. "May-
be he has managed to dump it down a lavatory by now."
In point of fact, Simpson was not far from the truth : Furman
got as far as obtaining permission to use the lavatory while still
at Via Chelini, but the armed guard who accompanied him in-
sisted on keeping the door wide open, and stood facing him with
a fixed, disconcerting stare. They were, indeed, still in this un-
orthodox situation when Simpson pressed the doorbell, but the
diversion was insufficient to allow Funnan to dispose of all his
Nevertheless, he did get rid of them eventually, setting a weird
paper trail through Rome, when carted off to the Regina Codi
prison. Under the cover of a blanket on his lap, he tore all his
papers into little pieces, and pushed them, at intervals, out through
the gap between the canvas hood and the side of the van. Bit by
106 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
bit, his two identity cards, his notebook of coded addresses and
telephone numbers, a statement of accounts, which he had in-
tended to deliver to me later in the day, and two or three receipts
fluttered out into the slipstream.
His money, however he actually still had 12,000 lire re-
mained securely in his raincoat pocket. Furman, the master of
subterfuge and bribery, had already come to the conclusion that
if he had to go back to prison, money was likely to be useful, but
he also knew that the sum he carried was too large for comfort,
and before he was interrogated he managed to stuff most of it
into a bread roll, which passed German inspection without arous-
The success of this ruse meant that Rome Organization money
was providing black-market cigarettes and other minor luxuries
for the recaptured prisoners in the Regina Coeli prison before I
even knew where they were. Furman achieved this through a
'trusty' prisoner, a crafty Italian, who ran many profitable side-
lines in addition to that of being prison barber, and who must
have combined serving a sentence with making a fortune.
It took a day or two to establish where the men had been
lodged, but as soon as I was able to confirm that at least some of
them were in the dreaded Regina Coeli, I decided that we ought
to try to make use of the services of our 'Protecting Power,' to
find out what was happening.
Accordingly, I sent a memorandum to the British Minister,
As we know that at least three of the prisoners-of-war recap-
tured on January 8 were taken to the Regina Coeli, could the
Swiss Legation send a representative to visit them? The fact that
these men were taken there presents an excellent opportunity for
the Swiss to inquire into the conditions of any other British
prisoners-of-war detained in the Regina Coeli.
Actually, it is a very delicate situation regarding the other
Britishers in there, because we do not know what stories they
have told the prison authorities. Their lives, even, might be en-
dangered if the Swiss were to interfere directly. For example,
we know that (a) Captain John Armstrong has been detained
there for nearly four months; (b) a Britisher named Cunningham
has been there for a considerable time; (c) there are three
Britishers in there whom the records show to be Italians. We be-
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE 107
lieve that in the case of Cunningham and these three, they were
dressed in civilian clothes when captured, so the authorities may
still not know that they are British. If it had been the authorities'
intention to shoot the three men shown as Italians the sentence
would, I think, have been carried out before now, but if the
authorities got the idea that these men were British they might
be able to charge them with new offences resulting in the death
In terms of diplomacy I was somewhat naive, for Sir D'Arcy
Osborne discussed the matter with the Swiss Legation, but then
informed me that they did not feel they could visit the prisoners
in the Regina Coeli at once, because the Germans would want to
know where they got their information about them. They would
suspect that it came from the British Legation, which would im-
mediately indicate the existence of an organization assisting
escapers from within the neutral Vatican.
However, the Minister told me, one of the Swiss had asked for
an interview with the German officer in charge of all matters
connected with prisoners-of-war, and hoped to see him shortly.
He would ask if there were any British prisoners-of-war detained
in Rome, and perhaps suggest the Regina Coeli.
I had to leave it at that, and turned my thoughts to the wel-
fare of the 2000 escapers still at large.
As an immediate step, we decided to evacuate all billets known
to the Italian helpers who were captured, and to reorganize the
whole system of supply and distribution so that each helper was
responsible for a small group of three or four 'cells,' and had no
connexion with any others. The actual groups of 'cells' were known
only to Monsignor O'Flaherty, Lieutenant Simpson, and me.
The new system, put into operation at once, placed a very
heavy burden on Lieutenant Simpson, who was now my only
military assistant on the operational side, for more and more
cscapera were coming in all the time. After the New Year raids
and the Sulmona breakdown, the need to guard against infiltra-
tion of informers was greater than it had ever been; but greater
also, alas, was the difficulty of achieving protection.
At first the home of two Irish priests, always game for any-
thing, had to be used as a sort of reception centre for newcomers,
but within a few days we were able to establish a transit camp
in the basement of a block of flats near the Vatican. The flats
IO8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
were used by Vatican officials, but the basement was the province
of a tiny Italian porter, Paolino, who cheerfully gave up accom-
modation which was none too extensive for his own family, in order
to provide overnight lodging for up to half a dozen escapers at a
time. The position was still further improved when we arranged
for a small shop, close to the Vatican, to be used as an interroga-
tion centre, where I could meet newcomers. Then came two more
blows aimed at the nerve centre of the whole organization.
The first came in the form of an innocuous invitation to Mon-
signor O'Flaherty to attend a reception at the Hungarian Em-
bassy, and the monsignor, well aware that the Hungarian Embassy
was a favourite choice by the Germans for much demi-official
diplomacy, accepted it with the resignation of a man answering
a summons. He had not been long at the reception before the
German Ambassador himself approached him, and said, "I would
like a word with you, Monsignor, if you don't mind."
The Ambassador drew the monsignor aside, and quietly but
firmly told him that the German Military Government of Rome
was fully aware of what was going on in the way of aid to escaped
"It has gone on too long, and it has got to stop," said the Am-
bassador. "In future you will stay where you belong. If you leave
the area of the Vatican you will be arrested on sight. This is a
final warning," concluded the Ambassador gruffly. "Think care-
fully about what I have said."
"Oh, to be sure I will," replied Monsignor O'Flaherty. "Some-
He was irrepressible, and told me about the warning with
evident glee, but almost immediately afterwards he received some
sort of official caution from the Vatican Secretariat. This, of
course, he had to treat seriously, and he delegated all his outside
visits to priests who, so far as was known, were not under sus-
picion, but he continued to direct their operations as energetic-
ally as ever from his office.
The second blow, which affected me directly, was not long
in arriving. The monsignor entered the office, looking unf amiliarly
grave. "It's more trouble we're in," he sighed. "This time it's
marching orders for you, me boy."
"You mean I have to leave here ?"
"Aye, that's about the size of it. Would you believe it, now,
NEW YEAR NIGHTMARE IO9
the rector has just informed me that he has reason to believe the
gentleman who is a guest in my room is not a neutral Irishman at
all, and he would therefore be very much obliged if the gentleman
would leave at once."
The rector, who was in charge of the college, was a German,
but I knew that he was no Nazi, so I guessed that he, too, must
have received some sort of warning from the Military Govern-
ment or the Vatican Secretariat.
With sudden affection, I gazed round the little room which had
seen so much drama and so much simple conviviality in the last
few weeks : at the sofa, which had been my bed, at the littered
desk, which had been our dining-table, at the little radio, which
had brought the English news to good men of half a dozen races.
The small room had become home to me in a very real sense, and
I could not bear the thought of leaving it, quite apart from my
growing realization that a change of address was bound to bring
forth a bumper harvest of problems if the work was to continue.
"I suppose it couldn't last," I said with resignation. "Well, I
had better set about organizing myself a place in one of the billets
straight away. Damned nuisance we haven't even got the flats
"One moment," said the monsignor solemnly. "It's not quite
as straightforward as that. I haven't told you everything yet."
"Not more trouble ?" I asked without optimism.
"Afraid so, me boy. It seems the Germans now know that
Patrick Derry is the lad who has been issuing all the help to
escaped prisoners. If you stay here they may pay you an un-
welcome call within hours, but if you go to a billet you'll have
to make up your mind to remain there. They'll pounce as soon
as you show your face anywhere round here."
"But that's impossible, Monsignor !" I protested. "How can we
keep the work going if I can't remain in touch? God knows it's
tricky enough already, with Furman and Pollak in the bag, and
you confined to barracks."
"Things are seldom so black as they look at first sight," said
the monsignor comfortingly, "but, I agree, it is rather a problem."
"A problem," I replied thoughtfully, "that merits solution at
Ministerial level. Monsignor, I'm going to have to ask you to
lend me your second-best soutane again. . . ."
Ghost of the Vatican
THOUGHTFULLY and deliberately, like an assize-court judge
summing up a peculiarly technical case, the British Minister pin-
pointed all the arguments for and against my establishment in a
billet in Rome, and then propounded a surprising solution.
"You will have to stay inside the Vatican," he announced.
"You mean I must be interned, sir?" I asked, startled and
"That," he replied, leaning back and fixing me with his slow,
calm smile, "is just what I do not mean."
He explained that would never do. Now that the Germans
knew all about Patrick, they would be watching with consider-
able interest to see where he turned up, and if they discovered
a sudden addition to the internees they would not take long to
put two and two together. He imagined they had already dis-
covered that Patrick was a British officer of some seniority, and
suspected that the legation was mixed up in it. They must be kept
guessing : Patrick must disappear altogether.
"Well, I have already decided to change my code name to
Toni/ " I said, "but surely everything you have said only proves
that I must go out into Rome and find myself a billet ?"
"On the contrary," he said.
The force of his subsequent arguments was irresistible, and
much as I disliked the prospect of cutting myself off from all my
friends, and from the interest and excitement of the work in
Rome, I had to admit that the organization of assistance for our
enormous 'country branch,' representing more than 90 per cent
of all the escapcrs, could be continued from within the legation,
whereas it might prove impossible from a secret billet somewhere
in the city.
So I 'disappeared/ and became the only Allied serviceman ever
to live, without being interned, within the Vatican City while
Rome was in enemy hands. With a twinge of regret, I handed
my Irish and German documents to Captain Byrnes, and told
him to bury them, for I wanted to know that they were still avail-
GHOST OF THE VATICAN 111
able, in case a German raid on the Vatican forced me to make
a run for it. Patrick Deny ceased to exist, and I was flattered to
learn that Monsignor O'Flaherty had some difficulty in account-
ing for my sudden departure to the German nuns, who had be-
come quite attached to the tall 'Irish 5 writer.
Sam Deny also ceased to exist, for no reference to my name
appeared on paper in the legation or elsewhere in the Vatican.
I became a man utterly without identity not even a false
one. I was the ghost of the Vatican : a ghost known only as
The Minister, observing my lack of enthusiasm for anonymous
incarceration, had tried, in his kindly way, to comfort me by
suggesting that it might now be only a matter of days before the
Allied advance swept up the long leg of Italy and liberated the
Eternal City. But from all the information that he himself had
given me, apart from what I had learned through the wireless,
I could not be optimistic. With snow reported from places that
had never seen it, and the prospect of seas of mud as soon as the
rapid Italian spring began, it was clear that the conditions for a
winter advance could not be less propitious. In any case, we had
no reason to believe that the Germans would not stand and fight
at Rome, allowing the city to be laid waste, and making our own
position completely untenable.
Thus, throwing off the monsignor's soutane for the last time,
I took up residence in the legation, with a feeling of gloom which
was not dispelled by John May's skill in preparing food, nor even
by nights in a proper bed.
Indeed, my frustration was only heightened when, on my first
full day in the legation, I found myself unable to meet the or-
ganization's most distinguished 'client. 9 In a crowded four weeks
there had been no news of the Greek agent, "Mario" (Theodore
Mdetiou), since he set off northward in mid-December, with in-
structions to bring back, if possible, one of the senior officers in
the group he claimed to have contacted at Arezzo, 120 miles
from Rome. I had not really expected ever to hear of him again,
but on January 13, while I was glumly establishing myself in my
new headquarters, he suddenly reappeared in Rome. With him
were Major-General M. D. Gambier-Parry, M.C., captured
during the North African campaign, and Mrs Mary Boyd, an
Englishwoman who had been under partial internment in the
112 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Arezzo area, but who had placed herself in great danger because
of the help she had given to Allied escapers.
The three of them had been travelling since January 9, when
Mario led them on a five-hour trek on foot to a place called
Badia Prataglia. There they caught a bus to Bibbiena, and com-
pleted the journey to Rome, audaciously, by train. The Greeks
found temporary billets for them, and their arrival was announced
in a letter brought to the monsignor's office by Mario.
The bearer of this, who is known to you [wrote General Gam-
bier-Parry], will tell you of my arrival here this morning, effected
through his magnificent efforts on my behalf. Is there any chance
of my getting into the Vatican, either (a) with the knowledge and
approval of H.M. Ambassador; (b) without it; (c) with it but
'winked 9 at. I left five brigadiers and three other officers in the
area I have come from. They have hopes of another plan, which
may or may not come off. To come to Rome, if our friend can
arrange it as he did for zne, may be an alternative, and in any case
three of them would like to come at once, or as soon as it can be
arranged. Will you discuss it with our mutual friend, and
send me back word by him also saying what are the possibilities
of getting them into the Vatican.
Postscript: Mrs Boyd and I are without money, and if we
cannot get into the Vatican the question of how we are to live
will arise very shortly. Have you any funds at your disposal
from which to help us? I have also got to buy a complete outfit of
By now I already had a number of officers of my own rank in
the care of the organization, but the presence of a major-general
was a new experience, so I called on the British Minister now a
very simple thing to do and he agreed to investigate the chances
of getting the general into the Vatican, since he was now the
senior Allied escaper in Italy. Lieutenant-Generals P. Neame, V.C.,
C.B., D.S.O., and Sir Richard O'Connor, K.C.B., D.S.O., M.G.,
and Air Vice-Marshal O. T. Boyd, C.B., O.B.E., M.C., A.F.C.,
who walked out of their castle prison at the time of the Italian
Government's collapse, had succeeded in getting out of the
While the Minister was making discreet inquiries, I sent
"Whitebows" (Brother Robert Pace), to the general's temporary
billet with a letter.
GHOST OF THE VATICAN 113
I strongly advise against your friends coming to Rome. Our
organization has recently been denounced, and seven officers and
several other ranks and helpers were retaken. We consider the
country to be far safer. Chances of getting your friends into the
Vatican are very small.
I also enclosed 20,000 lire in notes, and told him :
If you are unable to buy clothes please let me know your re-
quirements and rough sizes, and I will endeavour to get them.
But the Greeks, apparently, had good black-market contacts of
their own, and in his next note the general wrote :
Many thanks for the 20,000 lire, with which I have been able
to fit myself out most successfully, with the help of our friends.
Within a day or two I was able to get a message from the
general through to his wife, whom he had not seen for five-and-a-
half years, though because his name was so well-known, I could
not use what I had to look upon as 'normal channels' channels
which had still better not be disclosed. For this the general was
particularly grateful, although his message could not exceed ten
Meanwhile I had asked the monsignor if he could arrange a
billet of more than average security, as I did not want the Ger-
mans to recapture such a valuable prize as the general. It so hap-
pened that the monsignor had been keeping a very special billet in
reserve for just such an emergency, and told me of a secret room
made, not without foresight, in the home of Signora dio Rienzo,
in Via Roggero Bonghi. The signora was English by birth, the
daughter of Lord Strickland's brother. On the fourth floor the
door of an end room had been walled up, and from inside the
house there was no indication that the room existed at all; the
only entrance was through the window, and even that, in turn,
could be reached only when a plank was put out at night from
the window of a passage at right angles to the secret room a
hazardous 'draw-bridge/ forty feet above the ground.
It was the perfect hiding-place, so we arranged for the general
to be guided there forthwith. Once I knew that he was safe I
breathed freely, for now, apart from his host and hostess, nobody
knew of the general's whereabouts except Monsignor O'Flaherty,
his guide, and myself.
114 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
The general wrote :
The new billet is all that could possibly be desired, and far ex-
ceeds everything I ever dreamed of when I set out on this ven-
ture a fortnight ago. My host and hostess are quite charming, and
spoil me dreadfully. I am revelling in every comfort after what
was a pretty rough life in the part of the world I have come from,
and the conditions under which we were still living there; and
you can perhaps imagine how I enjoyed my first hot bath for
I certainly could, having gone eighteen months without one.
The secret room [the general continued] is a wonderful hiding-
place, and while it has its drawback in the way of not being able
to get out into the air, or take any exercise, I certainly don't feel
disposed to complain, for in that respect I am probably no worse
off than yourself and a great many others, and in many ways
probably better off than anyone.
I greatly wish that we could meet, and have a good talk, but
I realize it is impossible at the moment. ... I am still very much
in the dark as to the exact nature of your organization, and the
various parts which you and others play in it But I do realize
that you are doing splendid work, and I only wish that there was
something I could do myself, instead of sitting here in comfort
and complete idleness.
I could scarcely contemplate putting a general to work as a
billeting officer, even though my sole representative in that field
was now seriously overburdened, but, on the other hand, he was
the senior British officer in Rome, so, through "Whitebows," I
asked him if he would like to take over command of the organiza-
tion. With characteristic diffidence, he declined, and instead said
some very flattering things about what the organization had done
for him; I decided not to point out that he was only in Rome at
all as the result of a flamboyant Greek venture in which I per-
sonally had never had any faith, but thereafter we corresponded
regularly, and I kept him in touch so far as possible with all major
developments. He wrote long and frequent letters, and showed
great interest in all who were helping in our work.
On one occasion he wrote direct to Monsignor O'Flaherty,
with a suggestion about the future of the brigadiers he had left
in the north, but almost immediately afterwards sent me a letter
OHOST OF THE VATICAN 115
Thinking it over, I am not sure that I should not have written
to you direct instead of to our mutual friend, but I had to write
to him in any case, and as I have already explained, I am more
than a little hazy about the chain of command as between your*
self and others. I am sure, therefore, that you will acquit me of
any intention of going behind your back.
In fact, the general's letter brought home to me I think, for
the first time the strangeness of this organization, in which
soldiers and priests, diplomats and Communists, noblemen and
humble working-folk, were all operating in concord with a single
aim, yet without any clearly defined pyramid of authority. On
reflection, I could only write to the general :
Regarding "chain of command," although I have tried to
keep the show on military lines for the ex-prisoners-of-war
(on the whole discipline has been good, though one or two of the
boys have gone a little wild from time to time), we have no real
chain of command between "Golf' and his party and myself.
Consequently, "Golf' sent me your letter to read, and he will see
your letter to me; he sends me daily an account of his activities,
and I keep him informed of everything I do.
With so much correspondence floating about, I was beginning
to feel as though I was engaged, not so much in an escape or-
ganization, as in some sort of big business enterprise; even with
my key contact with the outside world, Lieutenant Bill Simpson,
communication was limited to paper, although, fortunately, it
never had to pass outside the precincts of the Vatican. Simpson
could always get to the guardroom at the Porta Santa Marta,
and usually without much difficulty to the monsignor's office,
while John May, working from the opposite direction, could
reach either place by a complex route which took him through
one of the Pontifical Guards' barrack rooms. During his long
sojourn in the Vatican he had maintained the friendliest of re-
lationships with the Swiss Guards, and his persuasive charm even
succeeded in inducing them to part with their boots, when he
was unable to obtain supplies for escapers from other sources.
How much footwear John May himself wore out in the service
of our organization I cannot guess, but he seemed to be almost
constantly ferrying messages between Monsignor O'Flahcrty, the
visiting Lieutenant Simpson, and me. In one respect this cumber-
some system had an advantage.
Il6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
One of the weaker links in our security was now strengthened
because Simpson read, memorized, and then destroyed all written
instructions from me before he left the Vatican, and did not write
any reports to me until he reached the guardroom.
Simpson was spending his whole time on the organization of
billets and the distribution of money and supplies, always keeping
room available for new arrivals in Rome, but he too must have
felt that he had become involved in big business, for he was
saddled with the loan negotiations which Lieutenant Furman
In his first written report Simpson enclosed cheques made out
by four hopeful officers, and asked, "Could you cash them? If
you can't they'll kill me." The officers all knew that cheques were
being paid each month into their idle bank accounts at home,
while the other ranks knew that they were piling up "credits."
I realized as well as anybody that freedom to spend just a little
of their involuntary savings would have made a great difference
to their rather bleak lives, but that did not alter the inescapable
fact that I just did not possess the funds. Indeed, I would have
been as glad as any officer to be able to cash my own cheques. I
had no alternative to telling Simpson that the money I sent him
was strictly and solely for the essential maintenance of escapers,
albeit at subsistence level. But I pointed out that there were
apparently sufficient officers asking to cash cheques to justify the
raising of a private loan of lire, as John Furman had planned.
So far as the other ranks were concerned, similar facilities could
not be provided, since the War Office payments were not normally
made into bank accounts, but I authorized the payment of twenty
lire a day for extra comforts to each man with the exception of
those staying with the bountiful Mrs Chevalier.
Simpson picked up the underground loan negotiations where
Furman had suddenly left off, and soon reported that he had
been able to arrange an advance of lire at "a goodish rate," if I
and a couple of other officers would sign an agreement for the
repayment. I agreed, and Simpson drew up a simple agreement
in Italian to refund the money in pounds sterling immediately
after the occupation of Rome by the Allies or the end of the war,
whichever was the sooner.
A week later Simpson reported that he had been able to col-
lect 100,000 lire at the rate of 650 to the pound, which struck me
GHOST OF THE VATICAN
as a noble effort, since the normal rate was about 450. "Not bad,
eh?" asked Bill, with some jubilation, reporting that he had given
a temporary receipt, and enclosing a final agreement for signa-
ture. So I signed, hoping for the best, and supporting signatures
were added by Major Fane-Harvey and Simpson himself. In the
middle of a war Simpson had, in fact, succeeded in pulling off a
financial coup. He had converted 154 pounds worth of British
bank credit into enemy currency. He encashed the officers'
cheques at the rate of 525 lire to the pound, and gave the profit
of 3750 lire to the Italian who had acted as go-between in arrang-
ing the loan on such favourable terms. -
Now that the officers had a little money of their own, and the
other cscapers were receiving a small personal allowance, it
seemed to me that most of the difficulties of their confinement
in Rome were overcome, but I could not help wondering how
many laws I had broken in authorizing this unique transaction. In
a letter to General Gambler-Parry I commented :
There are a few small points for the future like an odd 100,000
lire borrowed on the promise of 154 sterling immediately after
the liberation of Rome. Although I hold officers' cheques on Cox
and King's for the full 154, I cannot help doubting if the field
cashier will cash them for me. And will snags crop up like "trading
with the enemy," etc.? The point was that we had to have cash,
and I didn't much care how we obtained it; now that we have
the cash, I don't feel inclined to ask the good persons who lent
me the money to accept practically worthless lire back. Still, all
this will wait.
Even with 'the firm's money/ I was meeting continuous prob-
lems, a good many of which seemed to revolve around Mrs Cheva-
lier, who by nature was generous rather than provident. For
Simpson, "Mrs M." was a new experience. The responsibility of
paying for the five escapers billeted in her crowded flat now
rested with him, and at the end of his first survey, after the Janu-
ary disaster, he reported to me, "She is quite content to carry
on as before with her family of boys, and I think it is O.K. too.
She has to buy a stock of potatoes and would like some more
money." I could not help smiling; I had already spent a good
deal of time curbing Furman's enthusiasm for pouring Govern-
ment funds into the gallant widow's household, and now, ap-
parently, I had to go to work all over again for Simpson's benefit,
Il8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
for, if I did not tighten the rein, her escapers would end up the
five best-fed men in Rome.
To Bill I wrote:
This lady has done excellent work all the time. However, as
John possibly told you, she is inclined to spend too much money,
and feed her boys too well; great tact is required on this subject,
but from time to time we tell her she is spending too much, and
should cut out the eggs, etc. The great point is that if "Mrs
M.'s" boys spend more than 100 lire per day allowance, other
chaps have to go short (at least that is the way we put it to
By mid-January Italy was well in the grip of its most severe
winter for many years, which meant both that more and more
escapers made their way to Rome from exposed hiding-places in
the country, and that the position at the front, in the south, was
more firmly static than ever. I had to face the fact that for the
time being the organization would have to cope with an increas-
ing number of new arrivals without hope of a compensat-
ing outflow of departures, and Simpson and the priests spent most
of their time finding new billets, although some of these, in Simp-
son's words, were "not very bright."
It had always been my practice to provide money, clothes, and
whatever other facilities were possible for any escaper who wanted
to make his way south to the lines, and I continued to do so when
requests were made, though without optimism.
When the United States Charg* d'Aff aires, Mr Harold Titt-
man, asked me for a route to the lines for some American escapers
in the care of the organization, I had to reply :
I regret I am unable to give a route down to the lines, as ex*
prisoners who have recently been dispatched on our recommended
route have all returned. They state : (a) that it is practically im-
possible to obtain food when some distance from the lines; (b) that
snow on the mountain slopes makes going very slow; (c) that they
have seen several British ex-prisoners-of-war, especially Indians,
dead on the mountains, apparently having died of exposure and/or
hunger. While I realize that it is the duty of all ex-prisoners-of-
war to try and rejoin our forces at the earliest possible moment,
I cannot help but feel it is exceedingly unwise to attempt to get
through to the lines now.
GHOST OF THE VATICAN Iig
The blocking of the escape line to the south added to the
difficulty of finding sufficient accommodation in Rome for
escapers, and there were many minor complications : as on the
occasion when Pasqualino Perfetti, the pseudo-priest, who had
been my first contact in Rome, brought in from the country two
South African soldiers who happened to be ebony-black Negroes.
There was, of course, no colour bar in the organization, and, in-
deed, it was not difficult to find Italian 'padrones' to look after the
South Africans, but even the least racial-conscious observer had
to admit that they looked conspicuous on the streets of Rome, so
we had to order them to remain permanently under cover, in
There was also a steady stream of Arabs at the Santa Marta,
all claiming to have fought for the Allies in North Africa, and all
demanding (good Moslems that they were) the protection of the
Vatican. John May used to go down to the gate and deal with
them, but in almost all cases their loyalty was suspect, and we
never took them into the care of the organization in the ordinary
way. On the other hand, we could not afford to take chances, so
John May gave them money, and instructions to return to the
Porta Santa Marta if they needed more, and eventually we or-
ganized a system of fixed allowances, which the Arabs collected
at the gate once a month.
Then there was the problem of the Indians, which was rather
more difficult. I knew as well as anybody of the gallantry and
loyalty of the units which had fought with us in Africa, but I also
knew that the Germans had played on the political sensitivity of
the Indians they captured, telling them that British Imperialism
had been keeping them down for centuries, and urging them to
join an Indian regiment to fight the British, and so as the Ger-
mans put it strike the first blow for the independence of their
Tragically, some Indians fell for this line, putting their sweat
and skill at the disposal of the wrong side, and I always had the
fear that the loyalty of others was weakened by the persuasive
Nazi propaganda. Often with regret, I had to treat requests for
help from Indians with a certain amount of caution, but my best
defence lay in an ever-growing intelligence system, and informa-
tion elicited during the interrogation of new arrivab from various
camps gradually enabled us to build up a fairly comprehensive
120 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
knowledge, fully recorded and indexed, of the activities of the
more dangerous characters.
Thus, when one particular Indian came to us for help I was
able within minutes to identify him as a renegade who had gone
over wholly to the other side, and who therefore needed to be
kept under surveillance until he could be handed over to the
British authorities. One of the group leaders, Lieutenant Panwar,
a King's Commission Indian, volunteered to "befriend" the turn-
coat, take charge of him, and keep him out of trouble until the
liberation, which, in fact, he achieved with complete success. Un-
fortunately, the renegade later escaped from his prison cell at
But we had friends, too, and one averted a disaster for Mrs
Chevalier. It was only ten minutes before curfew one night, when
Mrs Chevalier answered a ring at the door to find there a lame
Italian youth, whom she knew vaguely by sight. He whispered
urgently, "You are hiding some British prisoners. The Germans
are coming to raid you after curfew to-night."
The youth told her he would take the escapers to his home if
they would get ready at once.
Mrs Chevalier, torn between suspicion and anxiety, asked him
to wait, and told her lodgers' of the message. They came, rightly,
to the conclusion that it was better for them to take the chance
of walking into a trap than to risk death for Mrs Chevalier and
her family. They scrambled their belongings together, and got
out of the flat with four minutes to spare before curfew, leaving
Mrs Chevalier, her son, and six daughters to cram their mattresses
into cupboards, and remove all other obvious traces of their
Almost exactly on the hour of curfew the S.S. pounded on the
door with the vicious urgency characteristic of their terrorism:
they never knocked on a door, but always kicked it with their
jack-boots or clouted it with carbine-butts. Mrs Chevalier slipped
back the latch, and the German commander strode in, taking in
at a glance the middle-aged woman, the youth, and the six girls.
"Papers," he demanded, and flicked quickly through their
"Who else is here?" he asked, but without much conviction.
Standing before him were eight Italians, all with papers perfectly
in order, and it was not conceivable that there could be any
GHOST OF THE VATICAN 121
further occupants of such a tiny flat. He made only a cursory
inspection of the apartment, failing to find any of Mrs Chevalier's
vast surplus of mattresses and foodstuffs, and decided that the
denunciation had been a false one. He apologized for the in-
trusion, and asked quite courteously if she had seen any strangers
coming and going in the neighbourhood.
Mrs Chevalier had already come to the conclusion that the
denunciation had come from the family next door, whom she
knew to be of Fascist sympathies, so she replied innocently, "There
have been some strangers coming to this building but they all
went next door."
The German commander thanked her, and ordered his men to
the adjoining flat, and for the next half hour Mrs Chevalier de-
rived singular satisfaction from the noise of crashing furniture and
hysterical protests, which filtered through the wall. In that half-
hour the S.S. men, who had spent only a few minutes with her,
and caused little trouble, practically wrecked the adjoining apart-
ment, wrenching open doors, stripping beds, up-turning drawers,
emptying cupboards, and puncturing upholstery.
The five escapers who had been at the flat were housed in
temporary billets, but when Lieutenant Simpson called on Mrs
Chevalier the day after the raid he found her very concerned
about them, though not in the least daunted by her own unnerv-
ing experience. "She is very worried about her boys," Simpson
confided to me. "She wants them back, but I say no. She is will-
ing to help us in any other way possible."
But within four days Mrs Chevalier had managed to get in
touch with her beloved "boys" again, and had talked Simpson
into allowing them to become reunited in the home of a friend
A day or so later Simpson was given a sharp reminder that he
should be constantly on his guard. He was now back at the com-
fortable flat of Renzo and Adrienne Lucidi, where his new fellow-
lodger was a Polish saboteur known as Rafaelo, and they were
all in bed when the front door shook under the unmistakable
hammering of the S.S.
In the moments before Renzo opened the door Rafaelo's little
bag of explosives was hidden, the Pole was pushed into bed with
Peppina, the housemaid, and told to pretend to be her lover, and
Bill was told to look stupid, and to do his best with the r61e of the
122 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Lucidis' half-witted nephew. It was a plot as fantastic as any
ever directed by Renzo Lucidi in a film.
The jack-booted Germans accepted the Lucidis' explanation
without question and showed no further interest in the English
officer and the Polish saboteur, but, to every one's horror, they
arrested Renzo's eighteen-year-old stepson, Gerard. As soon as
curfew was lifted next morning, Simpson and Raf aelo changed
their billets, while Renzo Lucidi went to the Via Tasso head-
quarters of the Gestapo to find out what had happened to his
stepson. He found out nothing and that evening the Germans
returned to the flat, and arrested Renzo. They also asked about
the unbalanced nephew, but Adrienne said he had gone out for
the day, and she did not know where he was.
That was true enough : Simpson had come post haste to the
Vatican to report to me, and had gone away with firm orders to
post himself to another billet forthwith, leaving me to do what
I could to assist Renzo Lucidi and his stepson. I knew that the
boy, Gerard, Adrienne's son by her former marriage, was French
by birth, so I immediately got in touch with my friend De Vial,
at the French Legation.
He persuaded the Vichy French Minister to take up the matter
with the German authorities, and within five days Renzo and
Gerard were released, little the worse for wear, and apparently
without having been subjected to extreme interrogation. From
De Vial I gathered that die only reason for the Germans taking
the boy had been that his name appeared in a list of students'
addresses found in the notebook of a professor arrested on sus-
picion of subversion, and they had nothing on his stepfather be-
yond the accurate belief that he was a leader of socialist thought.
Lieutenant Simpson made his own inquiries into the cause of
the raid, and in due course confirmed that it was only a political
business, and nothing to do with us.
Now that I was taking none of the personal risk myself, I was
increasingly conscious of the danger to which those doing the
operational work hourly exposed themselves, and there were con-
stant reminders that the risk was very real. On the day that we
so nearly lost Lieutenant Simpson the organization did, in fact,
lose another valuable helper, a gallant little Italian woman, whose
arrest was a direct result of her work for escapers.
To the organization she was just "Midwife." To the people
GHOST OF THE VATICAN 123
of the scattered villages in a rural area a few miles north of Rome,
she was Concetta Piazza, the district nurse, who dressed their bad
legs, took them medicine when they were ill, and brought their
babies into the world a busy little body, who fulfilled all the
duties of an English district nurse as well as many of those of
the general practitioner. To twenty British ex-prisoners-of-war,
hidden in odd corners of farms and villages, she was the cheerful
courier who, regularly as clockwork, brought them money and
When Concetta Piazza was arrested she had just completed her
long round of visits, and that was her one stroke of luck : she had
none of the incriminating money or supplies left. She was taken
off to Rome, and bundled into the notorious Regina Coeli gaol,
where she was charged with giving aid to Allied escapers and
"Midwife" knew she had been denounced, which probably
meant that the Germans had little real evidence against her, and
no knowledge of the whereabouts of her ex-prisoners. She also
knew that she was facing a capital charge, but she pinned her
faith on her record as a nurse who had given medical attention
to all in need, including Germans, and was convinced that if the
highest authorities were aware that a nurse such as herself was
being kept away from her vital work because of a mere 'un-
founded' suspicion, she would be immediately released.
On prison toilet-paper she wrote a long letter to Field-Marshal
von Kesselring, setting out all she had done in the course of her
vocation, and emphasizing the danger of epidemic over part of
the countryside close to Rome, in her absence. She knew, of
course, that such an epistle would never have got beyond the
stark walls of the Regina Coeli if she had tried to have it de-
livered through official channels. Indeed, she would probably
have been punished for writing it, since any form of communica-
tion was forbidden. But "Midwife" also knew that in the Vatican
were those who would help her even in the apparently hopeless
task of laying a petition before the field-marshal himself. She
therefore persuaded a prisoner being released to smuggle her letter
out of gaol. It reached me, and her outline of her work seemed
to provide as good a case as any for her release, for I knew that
the hygiene-conscious Germans, aware of the general shortage
of medical attention in the provinces, and also of the astonishingly
124 TH ROME ESCAPE LINE
primitive nature of rural sanitation, were in constant fear of the
outbreak of some sort of epidemic.
It therefore remained only to retype the letter on paper more
fitted for the eyes of a fastidious field-marshal, and arrange its
delivery. This would have to be through one of the neutral
Ministries, but I had to proceed with caution, for the Swiss
Legation was already suspected of going beyond strict diplomatic
limits for the British, and at the French Ministry De Val had
shot his bolt for the time being by persuading the pro-German
Minister to intercede for Adrienne Lucidi's son. On the other
hand, there was still the Irish Legation, where Dr Kiernan reigned
with such strict and unimpeachable neutrality that even the
naturally suspicious Germans could scarcely have harboured any
doubts about him. Blon Kiernan therefore arranged for the letter
to be placed before her father, and in this way the most strictly
neutral man in Rome came to pass a petition, typed at the head-
quarters of the British underground organization, to the field-
marshal; furthermore, he marked it, "For the personal attention
of Field-Marshal von Kesselring."
A day or two later, without a word of explanation, Concetta
Piazza, the little nurse, was released.
This result was gratifying, for the loss of agents and helpers
was becoming all too frequent. Often Italian helpers and
Allied escapers alike were picked up simply because they
happened to be in the wrong place when the Germans were
rounding up men for .forced labour almost a daily occurrence.
Occasionally the loss of an agent had an extra poignancy, such
as when one messenger, a Jugoslav returning from delivering
money to a group at Viterbo, was killed by machine-gun fire from
a ground-strafing British fighter aircraft.
January was a black month, but as disaster followed upon
disaster, there came a new beacon of hope Anzio. After months
of deadlock on the Cassino line, the Allies took a sudden leap up
Italy by a seaborne invasion at Anzio, on the Tyrrhenian coast,
not much more than twenty-five miles south of Rome, and estab-
lished a firm bridgehead on January 21, although the B.B.C. news
broadcasts did not mention it until the next day, and the German-
controlled Rome Radio ignored it altogether.
Rumours reached me within an hour or two of the landings,
and later I was able to see for myself, from the high roof of the
THE AUTHOR BEFORE HE DESERT CAPTURE
ST PETER'S SQUARE, ROME
It was here the author first met Monsignor O 'Flaherty The large building on
the left is the Collegio Teutonicum
SNAPSHOT OF MONSIGNOR HUGH O'FLAHERTY IN ROME
THE VATICAN GARDENS
The daily records and receipts of the Rome Organization were buned nightly in
LIEUTENANT JOHN FURMAN
He is seen here after his promotion to Captain following the liberation of Rome.
LIEUTENANT FURMAN'S NOTE FROM THE REGINA COELI PRISON
It measured approximately two and a half by four inches and bore some two
hundred words, telling the story of his capture.
o? vllianc In 7
THE AUTHOR'S BRITISH MILITARY POLICE PASS
THE MEDALLION PRESENTEB TO "raro AUTHOR BY
POPE PlUS XII TO COMMEMORATE HIS AUDIENCE
GHOST OF THE VATICAN 125
hospice building, the flashes of battle on the southern horizon.
Overnight I was placed in a quandary, for the whole underground
organization, which we had come to look upon as operating deep
in enemy territory, was now only a score of miles from the front
line. But everything depended on the reaction of the Germans.
If they intended to defend Rome there would be little hope of
maintaining the organization, quite apart from the fact that the
neutrality of the Vatican would probably be the first casualty, but
if they intended to withdraw to the north my task was clearly to
maintain the organization intact, and keep the escapers free until
the Allies swept into Rome. I was therefore faced with the alterna-
tive of ordering every man to make the best arrangements he
could to link up with the Allies, or telling everybody to sit tight
until further notice.
My own view was that the Allies would not attempt to storm
Rome, for the capture of Rome, while good propaganda, was of
negligible military importance compared with relieving the pres-
sure on the Cassino line, and perhaps cutting off the German
forces holding out there. But the decision was too important to be
based on my own forecast of military tactics; what I wanted was
knowledge of the German reaction, and the only way to get that
was from the Germans themselves.
Blon Kiernan, the Irish Minister's daughter, was on good terms
with the Bismarck family, and readily agreed to call for tea with
Prince Bismarck, first secretary at the German Embassy to the
Holy See. During tea they chatted casually, and by the time she
returned to me, Blon was able to confirm that the Germans con-
sidered they would have to withdraw northward.
The main danger was that the escapers, learning of the
proximity of the Allies, would act prematurely, and get recaptured
at a time when they would be more likely to be shot out of hand
than bundled off to distant prison camps. A few small groups
south of Rome, who were virtually within sight of the battle,
made their own way to the line, and were able to join the Allies
without much difficulty during the first twenty-four hours, when
the Germans were still off balance. Indeed, in that period I could
easily have evacuated all the escapers in and south of Rome, my-
self included, but that would have meant abandoning the hun-
dreds of others north of the city, at the time when it was most
necessary for them to remain an organized unit. In any case,
126 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
I presumed that my freedom was being delayed for only a day or
To Lieutenant Simpson I rushed the order :
Tell all that they are to remain in their billets after the occupa-
tion until they receive orders.
In the stress of the moment I had not said quite what I in-
tended to say, but Simpson, with admirable discipline, circu-
lated the order to other agents before he permitted himself to
I have noted your remarks about the boys staying in billets
when the time comes, and have passed the order on. I wonder
if they will, however.
I did not mean this quite literally [I wrote back hastily]. But
I do not want the boys dashing all over the place so that we get
complaints, and then orders for us all to be concentrated in some
camp. What I mean is that I want the boys to continue to live in
their billets, as opposed to dashing off to live in brothels, etc.
Even Lieutenant Furman and the other prisoners in the Regina
Coeli were aware that the war in Italy had taken a dramatic
turn, for two days after the landings all their regular guards were
withdrawn, and battered front-line troops, obviously resting from
battle, were put in their place. I knew all this because I had at
last heard from Furman. On a flimsy piece of paper, measuring
only two and a half inches by four, he had written two hundred
words outlining the story of his capture, warning that one of the
priests was under suspicion, and listing the names of escapers he
knew to be in the prison. The tiny epistle, folded over and over and
placed in a capsule, had been smuggled out of the gaol, secreted
on the body of an Italian, who went in periodically to shave the
prisoners because the Germans thought it was necessary for
hygiene, and because the men were not allowed their own razors.
Addressed "Dear Toni," and dated January 23, the letter read:
We were taken by the S.S. at Via C. on the 8th Jan. They had
already grabbed Tug and Pip and knew all about Via F. We
were taken straight to the Regina G. where we still are. None of
us has been interrogated, and we don't know what they intend
to do with us. We are in different cells, and liaison is difficult,
but I learned from Tug that Padre B. is known to them. They
GHOST OF THE VATICAN 127
got into Via G. with the assistance of Tug's cook, who brought
them along. To-day all our guards have been changed, and
rumours are rife. I hope the most optimistic ones are true. What
is certain is that there is small chance of escape from here, but
if they try to take us away well, "chi la sa." Officers here are
Wilson, Gardner, Macauley, Stewart, Selikman, Kane-Berman,
Furman, O.R. Billet, Knox-Davies, Gibb, Churchill, Hands and
Eaton (U.S.A.). In addition I have seen two coloured troops and
a Pole. Also brought in with us were Herta and Bruno. Since I
arrived I have seen and heard nothing of Macauley and Bruno,
nor have I heard or seen Joe. If 1 don't get back please see my
wife, and give her my love. Best luck,
Two days later, at half-past eight in the morning, Funnan
wrote another letter, which reached me by the same method.
Dear Toni [he said], I have just had notice that all British
prisoners are leaving here within the next two or three hours.
It is the most damnable luck to have missed the bus by just over
two weeks, but who knows perhaps I shall see you in Rome yet.
In any event, I know you will see my wife and Diana when you
get back. Would you also ask Bill to remember me to all our
friends here who have been so kind to me? And would you greet
our Irish golfing friend for me, and also John, who made such an
excellent dish of porridge not so many days ago. I still hope to
see you all, but, as you know, the opportunity may just not arise,
or it may end in a "Jock Short." In the event of the latter, I
would like you to know that I had a balance of 4000 lire at Chieti,
which should be worth about 50. But that is, of course, taking
the gloomiest of views. I have already sent you the names of the
people here all men from Via F. and Via C. except Tug and
Pip. I will sign off now, with the hope that you have an unevent-
ful voyage back to England, and that the work you have done
here is duly rewarded. My very best wishes,
I could not imagine that anyone else in such circumstances
would have betrayed so little self-pity, but there was still no doubt
that in a month of many letters this was the saddest of all; it read
far too much like a last will and testament for my liking.
"What might a 'Jock Short* be?" asked the monsignor, when I
showed him the letter.
"It was the name of one of our chaps at Sulmona," I explained.
128 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
"He was shot down when he tried to make a bolt for it at the rail-
"I see," said the monsignor slowly. "And do you think John
could be after doing the same sort of thing?"
"No no, not quite. He's got too much initiative to commit
suicide. But I'm sure of one thing, Monsignor : if there's the ghost
of a chance of escape he will jump at it."
I was depressed by the news that our men in the Regina Coeli,
within reach of liberation, were being sent north to the prison
camps in Germany at least, we prayed that was the correct
interpretation of the transfer; the alternative was that they were
being taken out to be shot. I was also depressed by the general
situation around me. Furman's reference to missing the bus by a
fortnight made it clear that he was still under the impression that
the Allied occupation of Rome was imminent, but I was no longer
After the elation of the first day or two, it rapidly became
apparent that Prince Bismarck had been too pessimistic about the
outcome of the Anzio landings, and that I, consequently, had
been too optimistic. The Germans, rather to their own surprise,
had succeeded in containing the bridgehead, and they were now
even talking confidently about "throwing the Allies back into the
sea." I did not believe that this was likely, but I could have kicked
myself for assuming a German withdrawal from Rome, because
I now knew that I could have evacuated dozens of escapers safely
from the city and its environs during the confusion of the first
So far from withdrawing from Rome, the Germans, in their
new confidence about containing the Anzio bridgehead, were
turning the Eternal City into a sort of front-line base. Divisions
from all over northern Italy were converging upon it, and the
whole place was alive with grey-uniformed troops. Each day
brought added danger for Lieutenant Simpson and the other
agents whenever they ventured on the streets, every night the
curfew was more and more strictly enforced, and troo concen-
trations made it difficult and, in some cases, impossible for us to
maintain the regular flow of supplies to groups in the country.
On the other hand, all this activity under our noses provided
more opportunities than ever before for the information service
which had been built up on the military side, and we were able to
GHOST OF THE VATICAN I2Q
keep useful reports flowing out of Rome in a fairly steady stream.
These included regular information about German reactions at top
level, for Blon Kiernan was taking tea regularly with Prince Bis-
marck, and the knowledge was useful, because the Germans did
not subsequently about-turn their reactions as violently as they
had in the first two days of the battle.
From the growing information service, we drew the consolation
of doing something active again for the war effort, but as January
slipped away, and the red line on my calendar scored through a
week, and then a fortnight of February, with no hint of an advance
from either Anzio or Cassino, I realized that the Rome Organiza-
tion would have to be kept intact for an indefinite period. Fortu-
nately, there was no clairvoyant around, for I would have learned
that although the Allied guns were barely a score of miles away,
the Rome Organization was still only half-way through its
Homing Pigeon and Caged Lion
BEAMING all over his benign face, almost bouncing with ex-
citement, and obviously bubbling over with delight, Monsignor
O'Flahcrty burst into my room, thrust a scrap of paper towards
me, and commanded, "Just read that, me boy I"
It was February 14, but I had scarcely expected that it would
bring me a Valentine. Uncertainly, suspecting some sort of a
prank, I unfolded the paper, and immediately recognized the
small, neat writing.
Back in Rome [it said]. Where the hell are you? Only consola-
tion for my sore arse will be when I see your smiling face.
I could not believe it. Was John Furman really back in Rome ?
"It's true all right, me boy," grinned the monsignor. "I've seen
him with my own two eyes, and talked to him as I am talking to
"But this is marvellous news ! It seems like a miracle ! "
"It is that," Monsignor O'Flaherty agreed. "But I think John
rather helped it on its way."
"Nothing could surprise me less. How did he manage it this
"Took a leaf out of your book, so far as I can gather hacked
a hole in a train, and jumped out. Then he and another chap
named Johnstone rode bicycles here up and down mountains from
the other end of Italy."
"That explains his cryptic comment," I laughed. "Monsignor,
do you know, these last few days I've been thinking of myself call-
ing on John's wife, and telling her that he got shot as a spy or
something, because of a job I let him in for. Not the sort of thing
one looks forward to, I can tell you. But I should have known
better I should have known they could never hold a chap like
John for long. How is he apart from the complaint he men-
"Furious because he can't get straight in to sec you," answered
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 131
the monsignor. "But seriously, I imagine all this unorthodox
travelling has not done his dysentery much good. He needs a bit
of building up, and a few nights in a comfortable bed."
Meanwhile Furman and the other man were having their first
good meal for weeks. I wished I could have gone with the mon-
signor to see them, and half hoped he might suggest some means
of smuggling me out of the legation, but I was a prisoner, not
just as a matter of expediency, but also as a matter of honour.
It was practical common sense that I should not allow the cloak
to slip from the secret of my existence while 2500 escapers and
evaders, scattered in and around Rome, depended for the main-
tenance of their freedom on the organization. There was also the
information service, which was of some value to the Allies, and
I had to remember that a moment of carelessness on my part
might lead to such extreme measures as the expulsion of the
British Minister, the closure of the legation, and the collapse of
the whole organization. It would not have been hard to talk the
monsignor into lending me his soutane again, but I knew that to
walk out through the gates would be to break faith with Sir
D'Arcy Osborne, if not with all those who depended on the con-
tinuation of the organization. With a jolt of conscience, I realized
that I was not now just a gunner underground : I was not merely
a 'ghost,' but something of a diplomatic secret.
Nevertheless, I was personally as well as professionally in-
terested in methods of escape, and eager to hear from John Fur-
man's own lips how he had completed his hat-trick of escaping
from German hands three times in six months. Bit by bit I pieced
the story together, although it was to be a long time before Fur-
man himself could fill in all the gaps, and I think it was one of
the most daring and efficient escapes of the war. At the time, I
summed it up more directly as "bloody marvellous."
All the odds had been against Furman from the start,
for the Regina Coeli itself was virtually escape-proof, and
there was nothing equivocal about the German commander's
warning when the British prisoners were lined for transportation
northward. "Your guards have been warned to shoot to kill at the
first signs of an attempted escape." Small wonder that Furman,
in his hastily written second note, had visualized himself meeting
the same fate as Captain Jock Short.
The first ninety miles of the journey north were made by
132 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
motor-coach, under the constant surveillance of a singularly
tough-looking group of guards, who kept their carbines at the
ready. The only bright moment came when the coach broke
down, and had to be towed by two oxen, commandeered by the
Germans at pistol-point. At a transit camp Furman teamed up
with Lieutenant J. S. Johnstone, R.E., a blond giant of a man
who had been with us at Chieti, and together they hatched a
hazardous plan for escape over the wire, but they were moved on,
perhaps fortunately, before they had the opportunity to try it out.
Before entraining for Germany, together with nearly a thousand
others, they were thoroughly searched, but Furman was even
more successful than at the Regina Coeli, from which he had
emerged with his money still secure in a loaf of bread. He not
only retained a pair of scissors, stolen from the unsavoury black-
marketeer at Regina Coeli, but gained an excellent cigarette-
lighter. Seeing a box full of "forbidden items," like lighters and
fountain-pens, confiscated from other prisoners, he used his fluent
German to tell the officer in command that a lighter had been
taken from him which was completely unserviceable but of very
great sentimental value. Rather to his surprise, the German gave
him permission to look for it, so Furman rummaged around in
the box, and took the best lighter he could find, salving his con-
science with the thought that the rightful owner would no doubt
prefer him to a German, as the new owner.
The train in which the prisoners were to travel was not a sight
to inspire confidence. Every two or three wagons had a turret
from which armed guards could get an excellent view, and the
wagons themselves were closed box-cars, with only small ven-
tilators, which had been securely boarded up and wired. Even Fur-
man recognized that breaking out of such a mobile dungeon with
a pair of scissors was likely to be difficult, but as he craned around
the door for a last breath of air before the wagon was sealed, he
saw on the tracks a few yards away a rusty iron bar. His pleas
of dysentery, vocally supported by his companions, were eventu-
ally heeded by the Germans, who allowed him to leave the wagon.
Furman walked away from the train, threw his jacket carelessly
over the iron bar, and settled down. There he sat, watched by a
dozen armed Germans, and then, picking up the bar in his coat,
scampered back to the train. By the time he reached the wagon a
large part of the rusty iron bar was protruding from his coat, but
HOMINO PIGEON AND CAGED LION 133
the Germans did not notice it. His fellow prisoners, however, had
cottoned on, and eagerly hauled him and his trophy aboard.
A break-out, to have a reasonable chance of success, had to be
made while the train was in motion (because of the noise), and
at night (because of the guards), but all through that night the
train remained in the sidings, and next day Furman had to sit
impatiently and impotently for hours as the train put more and
more miles between him and Rome. As evening approached, the
work began. Laborious carving made two deep cuts in the wood-
work at the end of the wagon, and a single mighty blow with the
iron bar left a neat hole two feet square.
Furman and Johnstone clambered out on to the buffers, fortu-
nately concealed from the turrets in each direction, but the train
was rattling along at nearly fifty miles an hour, and they could
feel themselves slowly freezing as they waited for it to slow down
sufficiently for them to jump. When at last it slackened speed
they jumped in opposite directions and the firing opened up at
Furman dashed into a back garden adjoining the tracks, and
Johnstone hurtled past him a few seconds later, and plunged
through a hedge. They lay panting, and listening to the con-
tinuing firing as other prisoners took their turn to jump farther
down the line. But the train kept moving, and when at last all
was quiet again they got up, and padded away in their stockinged
feet. Their boots had been confiscated before they entrained, and
when they were told they could have them back if they gave
their parole not to escape their reply was a derisive laugh.
Furman, who was always ready to make the bold approach to
Italians, and was invariably lucky in those he found, soon or-
ganized food and footwear, and eventually a change of dress for
Johnstone, whose ragged prison-camp clothing was all the more
conspicuous by its contrast to his companion's smart city suit. As
a final master-stroke, Furman purchased two ancient bicycles,
for through all his tribulations and searches he had contrived
to retain 3000 lire of the Rome Organization money in his posses-
sion at the time of his arrest. They were only a few miles from
the borders of Switzerland, where they could easily have spent
the rest of the war in internment, but they never gave it a thought.
From the moment that he was driven out of the gates of the
Regina Codi, Furman had never wavered in his determination
134 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
to return to Rome, and Johnstone had caught his infectious en-
thusiasm although Rome was more than 200 miles away.
The next fortnight was a marathon of country lanes and moun-
tain passes, of wide detours to avoid towns, guarded bridges and
road-blocks, of dragging climbs and exhilarating descents, at the
end of one of which Johnstone complained that his bicycle did not
seem to have responded quite as it should have done round the
innumerable hairpin bends. Furman inspected it, and found that
the front forks had parted company completely from the rest of
the ancient machine. They had help from many Italians, but none
more valuable than the information they gleaned from a farmer
they met near the outskirts of Rome, for it was he who told
them, first, that bicycles were not permitted to enter the city, and,
secondly, that trams from the near-by village of Monte Mario
were never checked at the road-blocks. The two officers gave their
bicycles to the village priest of Monte Mario, for the benefit of
his poorest parishioners, boarded the tram, and, with a combina-
tion of amusement and amazement, watched over the top of their
newspapers as the road-block guards checked every form of traffic
going into Rome except the tram in which they sat.
Within twenty minutes they were in the heart of the city, and
Furman led Johnstone to St Peter's Square, but he realized that
great caution was required : he had no way of knowing how far
the disaster of January 8 had spread, how many billets had fallen,
and how many more had been compromised, or even if the or-
ganization still existed at all. To go to any of the addresses he
knew might be to walk straight back into captivity, and to ap-
proach the Collegio Teutonicum without knowing if the mon-
signor and I had been arrested was unthinkable. With the calm
discretion that is so often the corollary of exceptional initiative,
Furman deposited Johnstone, a conspicuous giant who looked
more like a German deserter than a British escaper, in a quiet
corner of the square, where he was unlikely to come in contact
with the German sentries, who rarely moved from their appointed
stations, and went off on his own.
With the confidence that comes from familiar surroundings,
Furman made his way to a small shop facing the square, where
the proprietor had, he knew, rendered small services to us in the
past without becoming deeply involved in the organization. The
Italian agreed to get a message to Monsignor O'FIaherty that
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 135
a friend was waiting for him in the square, and it seemed only
minutes later that the tall priest was striding towards him, hand
outstretched, face beaming, and rich brogue bellowing, "In the
name of God, John, it's good to see you back."
Furman took him to where the bewildered Johnstone was wait-
ing, and the monsignor led them to the house of Fathers ClafFey
and Treacy, where he left them while he rushed off to inform me
of the good news.
That afternoon the monsignor returned to them with one of his
own suits for the down-at-heel Johnstone, the monsignor's great
height having once again proved an advantage. He led the two
officers back to the square, where Lieutenant Simpson and Rcnzo
Lucidi were waiting for them, and, after a joyous reunion in
sight of the Germans, they made their way to the flat of a loyal
Italian helper, Pestalozzi, where there was another reunion with
Adrienne Lucidi. In the evening they all had a party, but Fur-
man was anxious to get back into action, so Renzo Lucidi and
Bill Simpson spent most of the next day putting him in the picture.
Furman was appalled at the effect on the organization, and
was hard to convince that there was no prospect of our meeting.
Since I was already accustomed to conducting most of my con-
versations with the aid of an elderly typewriter, I lost no time in
writing to him.
I cannot possibly say how pleased I was to hear of your trium-
phant re-entry into Rome [I wrote]. When I got the news I just
didn't believe it until "Golf' confirmed that he'd actually seen
you; it was just too good to be true. Recently I had been imagin-
ing seeing your wife and daughter, wondering if they would hear
from you before my arrival, and thinking of handing over the
presents which I was holding for you. Now I hope we shall all
go home together what a time we shall have ! I might add that,
in my humble opinion, the initiative and determination you have
shown in your three escapes is absolutely terrific.
Incidentally, John, the work done by Bill, Joe, and you during
the last few months is beyond all praise.
Furman did not reply for four days.
I had been hoping [he wrote apologetically], a letter would not
be necessary, optimistically thinking I might be able to see you
within a day or two. I'm looking forward to a yarn with you,
136 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
and the sooner the better in fact, I have been looking forward
to it ever since the "break." All the way down here, when I
wasn't thinking of my sore bottom, I pictured your face when
you heard I was back. The warmth of my reception on my return
was such as almost to compensate for the trials and tribulations
of the preceding month. But we should all be better off without
By the time he got around to writing, Furman was already
thoroughly back on the job, somewhat to my concern, for my idea
had been that he should remain under cover for a time. Activity
by the authorities was intense at the time, for the Germans were
making continuous round-ups, to secure forced labour for the
defence positions being constructed around Rome, and the Italian
Fascists were making no less frequent raids aimed at the black
market, which had already made nonsense of the Roman ration-
ing system. The black market had the enthusiastic support of our
organization, for we had a vested interest in any illicit trade that
enabled us to obtain food and other supplies without the formality
of ration documents. One weird effect of our black-market trans-
actions, incidentally, was that tobacco supplies reached the very
people for whom they were originally intended, via complex
roundabout routes. The cigarettes were packeted in America for
issue to Allied troops, but had been captured by the Germans,
and issued to their soldiers. They, in turn, sold them to Italian
black-marketeers, from whom they were bought by our agents,
and eventually distributed among the escapers.
Furman drifted back into work by attaching himself to Simp-
son as an unofficial assistant, helping to escort escapers to new
billets, delivering supplies, and checking on reports of enemy
activity; I soon became resigned to the fact that he was fully
operational again, whether I thought it safe or not, and I could
not order him to stay underground while the load on Simpson
was so heavy. I contented myself with warning him to be careful,
and not to try to work at the speed which had been possible in the
days when he last knew Rome.
One day Monsignor O'Flaherty said that if John did not see
mq spon I would find him breaking into the place.
"I'll see him to-morrow," I laughed. "At long range. Tell him
to be in your room at three o'clock. Ill give him a wave from the?
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 137
At the appointed time I looked out from the high legation flat,
across a jumble of buildings and squares, to the distant Collegio
Teutonicum, and at a third-floor window I could just make out
a figure. I waved cheerfully, wondering if Furman could see
more of me than I saw of him. In fact, he could he was using
binoculars. As I left the window, I wondered if the gesture had
been worthwhile, for it had made me feel my isolation more
keenly than ever.
Out in the city Simpson and Furman divided the duties equally,
but agreed it was not wise for them to continue to share the same
billet. Furman organized a home for himself with a middle-aged
clerk, Romeo Giuliana, whose eighteen-year-old son became one
of his principal helpers, with, ultimately, calamitous consequences.
It was through Furman that Mrs Chevalier's ever-ready apart-
ment came back into use. One day he learned that an Italian,
who had guided four escapers into Rome, had been arrested, and
had started to talk. The man knew nothing about the organiza-
tion, but he did know where the four escapers were billeted. Sure
enough, the house was raided, but Furman, forewarned, had
already moved the escapers. He had put them in "Mrs M.'s." I
was not very happy about this, because it was only an unexpected
tip-off from somebody outside the organization that had averted
disaster there before, but, in fact, Furman had set the pattern for
the use of Mrs Chevalier's flat in the immediate future. It was to be
the temporary home of escapers whose billets had become unsafe.
It was also, by chance, to be pressed into service as a make-
shift nursing-home. We had to arrange a good deal of medical
attention for the escapers in the country areas during the hard
winter, but the report that came in from a group at Subiaco,
some miles from Rome, was more disturbing than usual. A
Cameron Highlander, Private N. I. Anderson, had acute appen-
dicitis, and needed an immediate operation. The supply of medi-
cines and even qualified medical attention was no great problem,
but we did not have a fully equipped operating theatre.
I therefore decided that Anderson would have to be brought
to Rome, and deposited at the door of a suitable hospital, where
he would lose his freedom but gain medical attention. "White-
bows" (Brother Robert Pace), who had for some time acted as
the link for this group, went to see him, but returned a few hours
later with a surprising reply.
138 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
"He won't go," said Brother Robert. "All he says is, Tve
come this far, and if nothing can be done for me I'd rather die
than give myself up to the Jerries.' "
I admired his spirit, but had no intention of letting him die.
I did not know the answer, but was sure Monsignor O'Flaherty
He did. He got in touch with an old friend of his, Professor
Albano, surgeon at the Regina Elona Lazzaretto, a big hospital,
to which at this time the Germans were sending many of their
seriously wounded troops from the Anzio battlefield, and the pro-
fessor agreed to carry out an emergency operation that night on
"the monsignor's friend" without giving any information to the
authorities. However, an official check of the hospital was im-
minent, so the patient would have to be removed immediately
after the operation. It was impossible for him to be taken to a
ward, even for long enough to recover from the anaesthetic.
A second difficulty was that of getting Anderson to and from
hospital. Ambulances were out of the question, taxis were non-
existent in Rome, the distance was too great for a horse-drawn
carrozza, and the few private cars were mostly in the hands of the
Fascists, since elaborate permits were required for their use. That
left only the small group of cars belonging to the few members of
the Corps Diplomatique, who were still able to move freely, and
one of these was in the possession of the Irish Ambassador, Dr
Kiernan. The monsignor was on good terms with the strictly
neutral Irishman, but he knew that there was nothing to be
gained by a request that he should allow his car to be used for
clandestine purposes. On the other hand, there was nothing to
be lost by an appeal to Mrs Kiernan. . . .
When the Irish "C.D." car swept out of the city that evening
it carried an Irishman who was no diplomat the massively built
Father John Buckley, known in our organization as "Spike."
Father Buckley had qualified for the job because he was the big-
gest and most powerful of the monsignor's helpers, for that night
he was to do the work of two stretcher-bearers. At Subiaco he
carried the almost insensible Anderson bodily into the car, and at
the hospital he carried him into the reception hall, and placed
him gently on a trolley in the care of two nurses, who were in the
The professor, who had already that evening carried out four
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 139
operations on German soldiers, turned his attention at once to
Anderson, and within an hour the Scot, sewn up and still un-
conscious, was wheeled out of the operating theatre, and gathered
again into the vast arms of Father Buckley.
Monsignor O'Flaherty, working on the basis that Anderson's
biggest need would be for a selfless motherly care, which could
not be provided in many of our billets and was certainly not avail-
able at Subiaco, told Father Buckley to take the patient to Mrs
Chevalier's flat, where they arrived to find Lieutenant Furman
waiting in a state of some concern.
He had learned that the place might be under observation, so
it was essential that anybody billeted there should be able to get
away in a hurry if necessary. "This chap doesn't look as if he can
move very fast," said Furman.
"That he can't," said Father Buckley. "But the point is that if
the poor boy isn't put to bed soon he'll be a corpse."
It was Mrs Chevalier herself who settled the issue, command-
ing Father Buckley to take Anderson up without further delay.
"It will be all right," she assured Furman, and by the time the
massive priest had toiled up three flights of stairs with the grey-
faced Scot in his arms, she had a bed all ready.
I received the reports on this enterprise with a mixture of relief
and anxiety. I was relieved that the operation had been com-
pleted, because Anderson had been suffering from severe appen-
dicitis and peritonitis, and might well have failed to survive an-
other day, but I was concerned by the news that the surgeon still
considered the patient's condition to be "very grave," and I was
seriously worried about the possibility of another raid. "Mrs M."
was already looking after five escapers who had been forced to
move from other billets, and we had gone to great lengths to
ensure that they all had an efficient evacuation drill worked out
in detail and thoroughly rehearsed, but it was obvious that it
would be a long time before Anderson could, in emergency, do
anything to save himself or, even more important, the woman
looking after him.
The raid we had all feared came just seven days after Ander-
son's operation, and he was still immobile, and by no means out
of danger. Once again, however, Mrs Chevalier was forewarned,
by a young Italian who worked in a minor capacity at the
German headquarters. Possibly without knowing that she had
140 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
anything to hide, but purely as a neighbourly act, he called
on her shortly after five o'clock, and told her, "Your flat is to be
raided at seven."
Mrs Chevalier informed the five fit escapers, who left un-
obtrusively at five-minute intervals, and sent one of her large
family rushing off with a message to Monsignor O'Flaherty.
When he received it there was only an hour to spare, but in that
time he saw Mrs Kiernan, again 'requisitioned' her husband's car,
rounded up Father Buckley, and dispatched him post-haste to Via
Impera. Father Buckley gathered up Anderson, now conscious
but in considerable pain, ran with him in his arms down the steep
stairs to the car, and swept away, watched by a tearful Mrs Cheva-
lier, who was sure Anderson could not survive such a journey.
By the time the security men arrived, punctually at seven
o'clock, the apartment bore an outward innocence, but Mrs
Chevalier was lucky, nevertheless, for once again it was the size
of her own family that saved her. Faced by so many people in
such a small flat, the police made only a cursory examination for
signs of more.
I breathed again, expressed my congratulations and thanks to
those responsible, and once again issued orders. "No more lodgers
for 'Mis M.'"
So far as Private Anderson was concerned, I would not have
believed that any man's constitution could withstand being carted
about like a sack of potatoes immediately after a major opera-
tion, and now I was pessimistic about his chances of surviving a
second move in a week. He was sent "up the hill" to our safest
billet, in the grounds of the Collegio Americano, which now held
the largest of our groups in Rome, under the command of Lieu-
tenant Colin Lesslie, of the Irish Guards. Lieutenant Lesslie spent
half his time working out new schemes for rejoining the Allies, and
just before Anderson's arrival he had returned 20,000 lire, which
I had advanced to him for a plan involving sailing a boat to Sar-
dinia, which he reluctantly abandoned after running into a host
of insurmountable difficulties. Anderson presented Lesslie with
a new problem, and he did everything possible to ensure that the
sick man had comfort, quiet, security, and good food. After hover-
ing between life and death for a fortnight, the dour Scot, whose
own will to live had never weakened, began to gain rapidly in
strength, and by the end of the month was well on the way to
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 141
recovery. His eventual restoration to health was, in fact, com-
plete, and I suppose it could be said that rarely has a man owed
his life to such strangely assorted factors as a scholarly monsignor,
with the incisive brain of a business tycoon; a giant priest, with
the strength of a lion and the gentleness of a lamb; an Irish lady,
whose humanity overwhelmed political propriety; a little Maltese
widow, with a gallant heart as big as her own expansive family;
and an Italian surgeon, who, with his enemies all around him,
risked his life to save a life.
As February ran out the pace continued to increase. In four
weeks we added 338 names to those on the roll of escapers and
evaders in our care, bringing the total to 2591, in spite of recap-
tures, escapes into Switzerland, and, in a very few cases, successful
returns to Allied-held territory.
The flow into Rome itself remained the biggest problem, and
it was intensified by the arrival of men from the front at Anzio,
who had been cut off from our forces without ever falling into
enemy hands. We were also receiving an increasing number of
American bomber crews, who came in groups of six or seven at
a time, all largely unaware of the German grip on Rome, and
generally expecting to find that the best hotel in the city had been
taken over for their reception. From beginning to end of February
the number of escapers actually in Rome rose from eighty-four to
1 1 6, and on several days it was very much higher, for new arrivals
often outnumbered the day's dispatches to country groups.
The basic policy of the organization remained, as ever, to re-
duce the numbers of escapers in Rome, because keeping them in
the city had two disadvantages: first, their maintenance cost
much more than in the country, and secondly, there was the
never ending difficulty of finding Italians prepared to take the
risk of housing them for a return that barely covered costs, and
this at a time when police activity was constantly increasing, and
prices in the shops were rising steadily.
When the Allies landed at Anzio a good many Italians, think-
ing the end was near, decided to get back on the right side of the
fence, and endeavoured to contact organizations such as ours with
offers of assistance, but as the weeks dragged on, and the bridge-
head forces came no nearer to Rome, that shallow source of supply
dried up. Indeed, even some of the families who had helped us
in the past began to get a little discouraged.
142 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
In a report to Sir D'Arcy Osborne ("Mount") I wrote :
While we do all we can to discourage ex-prisoners from coming
to Rome, still the number keeps increasing. It becomes more and
more difficult to find billets for them but I am afraid the number
will still increase as time goes on.
From experience, I knew what the rising numbers must mean
to Lieutenants Furman and Simpson, on whom the burden of
billeting rested to a large extent.
It's a hell of a job finding billets now [Furman wrote], and, of
course, when you do find them they insist on having officers.
Furman's view was that if the Italians insisted on having com-
missioned guests, then officers they must have even if it meant
that the Rome Organization had to do some unorthodox pro-
moting on its own. When one Italian agreed to take in two
escapers provided they were officers Furman moved in two smart
young men both privates and promptly gave them the very
temporary (and unpaid) rank of lieutenant.
On another occasion Furman received a message from the
Greeks, who now called their movement "Liberty or Death,"
that they had in their hands a British major who had been
parachuted behind the lines as a saboteur, and now appeared to
have about half the Gestapo on his heels. Furman had just made
arrangements with a well-to-do business woman, Luciana Zoboldi,
to take in an officer, so he called on her, and told her to be ready
to receive the major. Then he went off to meet Mario, the Greek
agent, and found him accompanied, not by one man, but by two,
for the saboteur had teamed up with another escaper. Furman
thought he would be able to overcome that difficulty with
Luciana, but the next snag almost stopped him in his tracks. The
saboteur, addressed by Furman as "sir," looked uncomfortable,
and explained that he was not a major but a sergeant-major. The
Greeks had got hold of the wrong idea, and he, not knowing that
he was to be transferred into British hands, had decided not to
disillusion them. His companion was a private. Furman came to
the conclusion that the fewest complications would arise if the
deception was maintained; he had promised Luciana a major,
and a "major" she got, together with another "officer."
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 143
Furman might not have gone to such pains with this couple
if he had known about them what I was able to tell him after he
had reported their arrival. They had, in fact, already been
through the organization once, while Simpson was working on
his own, and had disappeared from Rome, owing their 'padrone*
about six weeks' rent. As soon as I learned of their return, I put
Furman in the picture, but in the meantime the pair, having
stopped long enough to collect money separately from three
sources in the organization within an hour, had departed from
Rome again, ostensibly to head southward, in an attempt to re-
join Allied forces.
We 'promoted' escapers only rarely, but we came across scores
who, since their escapes, had 'commissioned' themselves, and
many of them clung tenaciously to their assumed officer-status,
even when we had been able to confront them with particulars of
their true identity, as we frequently could, thanks to the extensive
card-index system built up by Captain Byrnes. Indeed, there were
few men who had been in prison camps in Italy about whom we
did not have an outline history. Most of the self-commissioned
'officers' seemed to be South Africans, and I wrote to Furman and
During the past week I have received letters and applications
for assistance from no less than ten officers, who, when checked
up, proved to be sappers, privates, or lance-corporals (unpaid).
All are S.A. I wonder why they do it? I suppose you know that
Lieutenant Koster Kelly is really Private Kelly. . . .
The truth was that the organization was now so vast that the
people passing through were bound to include a few doubtful
characters, particularly since any one who knew the ropes could
turn our services to personal financial advantage. I issued money
to several sources, to be handed out against the name and number
of escapers, in order to ensure that new arrivals in Rome should
have prompt assistance, and some of the cuter ones quickly dis-
covered that they could achieve a useful working capital by
making the rounds. This was reprehensible, to say the least, yet
there were occasions when I felt inclined to take a lenient view
of such duplication of assistance, which of course always came to
light when I checked the numbers of those given money.
There was, for instance, the case of the private who was taken
THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
in the Via Chelini raid, but left in the Regina Coeli when the
others were transferred. He was later moved to a prison camp,
from which he immediately made good his escape, arriving back
in Rome on the same day as Furman. Knowing the ropes, he
collected, in a couple of days, 2000 lire and a suit of clothes from
our contacts at the Swiss Legation, 3000 lire from me, via John
May, and 1440 lire from Lieutenant Simpson. It was a pretty cool
round-up, but I was so delighted with the man's success in having
escaped again that I decided against taking any action beyond
making sure that everybody concerned was warned not to make
any further payment to this particular customer.
The main purpose of our meticulous records was not, in any
case, to protect us against the wiles of over-enterprising escapers
so much as to preserve the security of the organization, for they
indicated those whose behaviour while in prison camp had been
suspect, as well as those who had never been in prison camps at
all. I knew that some of the forty Arabs on the books were of
dubious loyalty, since many of their race had come to Italy volun-
tarily, to continue their profitable services to Italian or German
officers. I also had reason to be cautious with the Indians coming
into contact with the organization, for I knew that several of
them had been, as mentioned previously, sufficiently swayed by
"anti-Imperialist" propaganda to give active assistance to the
Fascists. Men about whom we could not be absolutely certain
although they must, in many cases, have been fully trustworthy
were never billeted with Italian families, but sent to caves and
other similar hides in the country. They were never visited by
members of the organization, but had to call at pre-arranged
points to collect a monthly subsistence allowance. Nonetheless,
they occasionally approached the 'staff' for help, and Lieutenant
Simpson's accounts once included 150 lire to enable an Indian,
Atma S., to buy a hat. Taken prisoner while wearing a turban and
beard, he had cut off his beard when he escaped, Simpson ex-
plained, and naturally he needed a hat.
I knew something about Atma, because he was one of those
receiving a monthly allowance, and shortly afterwards I was able
to give Simpson the more definite information that he was a
rogue, and at one time had a job as batman to a well-known
When Simpson reported later that he had received a request
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 145
to keep a rendezvous with Atma and some other Indians, whom
he claimed to be guiding into Rome, I flashed back a warning
at once. Simpson did not keep the appointment, and, though
Atma remained on the monthly pay roll, there was no sudden
influx of new Indian names to give credence to his story.
One new arrival had to be side-tracked from the normal
channels for an entirely different reason he bore a famous name.
Towards the end of February I received a report that Paul Frey-
berg, a lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, was in hiding in the
Pope's summer villa at Castel Gandolfo, normally the only place
ever visited outside Rome by a Pope during his reign, but at
present a lonely outpost, virtually in the middle of the German
line ringing the Allied bridgehead at Anzio.
Freyberg had been cut off while on patrol, and captured, and
though he escaped with commendable promptitude, he was un-
able to find any way through the German forces massed round
the brideghead. So he gave himself up at the palatial villa, which
was clearly labelled as Vatican extra-territorial property. The
priests there took him in, but with discomfiture, for he was the
son of Major-General Bernard (later Field-Marshal Lord) Frey-
berg, V.C., C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., commander of the New Zea-
Freyberg's name made him an embarrassment for the Rome
Organization too, quite apart from the fact that it was impossible
to make any direct approach to him because the Germans had
established field workshops all round the villa, and how he got
through without detection I could not imagine.
Monsignor O'Flaherty discussed the situation with me, and we
agreed that this was the one case where, if possible, we ought to
organize an official internment in the Vatican, for, on the one
hand, Freyberg would be a tremendous prestige-prize to the Ger-
mans if they succeeded in recapturing him, while, on the other,
his confinement in the Vatican should not be too protracted,
since the Allied advance would soon liberate Rome.
"But how do we move him along the main road from the
batdefront?" I mused. "Then there's the problem of getting him
through those German workshops."
"Leave it to me, 9 * said the monsignor, after a moment's thought.
"Fll see if anything can be arranged, me boy."
I cannot remember how often the incredible cleric had said
146 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
exactly this to me in varied circumstances, but I did know, from
repeated experience, that when he said it the impossible task was
as good as accomplished. The monsignor arranged with the priests
at Castel Gandolfo to stow Freyberg into the boot of the official
Vatican car, after its next routine call with supplies for the staff
at the villa, and in due course the car, a familiar enough sight to
the Germans, swept unhindered through the workshop area with
a crumpled grenadier slowly suffocating in the back. The car
covered the eighteen miles to Rome in half an hour, swept through
the gates of the Vatican, and stopped close to the barracks,
where Freyberg emerged gratefully, to become the first escaper
to be officially interned since the guards had been given their
orders to expel forcibly any unauthorized person attempting to
enter the Vatican City.
He was also the first new arrival I had been able to welcome
personally for some weeks, and one of the earliest things I learned
about him was that he was on the verge of coming of age. The
ubiquitous major-domo, John May, received this news with un-
concealed delight. Always ready to organize a party, but rarely
presented with the excuse for one, John May jerked all his black-
market strings violently, and my small room became the setting
for the only official party the Rome Organization ever organized.
John May and I were joined by several of the British internees,
who regularly called at the legation to relax in the club-room,
which had once been the generous Mr Hugh Montgomery's study,
and to the guest of honour it must all have seemed slightly unreal.
A day or two earlier he had been in the midst of a violent battle,
and now, twenty miles deeper in enemy territory, he was involved
with other British officers in a riotous celebration of his twenty-
first birthday, with everybody shouting joyfully in English, and
singing English songs, as though there was not a single German
within a couple of hundred miles.
Luckily for me, the party came just when Lieutenant Simpson
had succeeded in smuggling in a small supply of spirits. I was
almost overwhelmed when the first bottle unexpectedly arrived,
and wrote : "Gratissimo multi for the medicine it is just what
the doctor ordered." The phrase stuck, and from then on the
cash which I sent Simpson often included, with 'the firm's money,'
some of my own, for what came to be known to us both as "the
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 147
Not without some interest did I read in a publication called
The Tablet that "the presence of the ex-prisoners, all naval and
military men, had considerably enlivened diplomatic life in the
city." The article continued :
The circumstances in which they succeeded, not without diffi-
culty, in making their way into the jealously guarded precincts of
the neutral sovereign state of the Vatican will some day be worth
reading. They are lodged in what used to be the infirmary of the
Pontifical Gendarmerie Barracks. . . . The ex-prisoners are well
fed at the barracks, though they find the endless pasta a trifle
monotonous. They also suffer somewhat from the cold, as the
winter has been exceptionally severe in Rome, and the barracks,
like the rest of the Vatican, with the single exception of the diplo-
mats' quarters, has remained unheated.
The Tablet was slightly wide of the mark, when it spoke of the
forced inactivity of the cut-off diplomats, for our own legation
was a hive of industry, and several of the others, like the Polish
and the Jugoslav, seemed to be very active.
Even I was by no means limited to one room, although I rarely
ventured farther out of doors than the piazza, since the gendarme
on duty would have recognized at once that I was not one of the
thirteen official internees. However, I saw De Vial and De Blesson
of the French Embassy practically every day, called on the Jugo-
slav Charg6 d* Affaires, Tzukitch, three times a week, visited the
American Minister, Mr Harold Tittman, periodically, and was
constantly in and out of the Polish Legation, which was on the
floor below our own. Between us we had a pretty thriving social
life, and I attended many happy bridge parties with my French,
Jugoslav, and Polish friends.
At the Polish Legation, no matter how often I called, there
was always a wonderful welcome, and it was there that I met
Casimira Dabrowska, who had been a well-known portrait-painter
in her own country. She was distressed because she was trapped in
the Vatican, with practically no contact with the outside world,
and so was unable to do much to help the organization's work.
One day I was showing her the tiny photograph of my wife,
Nancy, which I had managed to retain, through all my changes
of fortune, in the screw-on back of my wrist-watch : the only one
of my original possessions that had remained with me through-
148 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
"So nice," said Casimira, "but, oh, so small. You must lend it
to me. If I cannot do anything for your work I will do something
for you : I will make a big copy of it."
The result, produced a day or two later, was a magnificent
drawing which I shall always treasure, for from the tiny snap-
shot, she had built up a glowing, lifelike portrait of astounding
integrity, guessing, with remarkable accuracy, the shoulder line,
which the photograph did not reveal, and equipping Nancy with
a dress which suited her perfectly.
One way and another, my contact with representatives of
Allied nations was satisfactory, but there were times when I wished
that it was equally close with the British forces. By various means,
I was able to send a good deal of information out of Rome, but it
was a one-way traffic, and the lack of news from the opposite
direction occasionally led to complications undreamed of by Allied
At one stage we were concentrating escapers in an area which
was ideal a valley nestling in a curve of hills, miles away from
the city and trunk-roads, admirably suited for air supply-drops,
well equipped with farms, where escapers could be billeted, yet
with hills providing hiding-places in emergency. Above all, it was
singularly free from German military occupation. Its principal
link with the outside world was a railway viaduct running across
To the planners of Allied special operations, the viaduct was
an inviting target, and one night they parachuted down a couple
of 'cloak and dagger' men, who made a thoroughly effective job
of blowing it up. The immediate result was that furious German
troops and S.S. units swarmed into the peaceful valley, and,
assuming the sabotage to be the work of subversive Italians, went
through every farm and every house with a toothcomb. In search-
ing for explosives and indications of Italian activity, they inevit-
ably unearthed a good number of Allied ex-prisoners, who, with
their hosts, were promptly arrested. Fortunately, many of the
escapers had intelligently rushed to the hills immediately the
viaduct disintegrated, and most of the men we had sent to the
valley maintained their freedom. On the other hand, we lost one
of the best concentration centres we had ever found, but it would
have been asking too much to expect the 'cloak and dagger 9 boys
to let us know what they were going to blow up next.
HOMING PIGEON AND CAGED LION 149
Nearer home I was more concerned at the lack of direct con-
tact with my principal assistants. The letter-ferrying system was
working well, all things considered, and hammering away at my
typewriter, I found it fairly easy to convey instructions and advice,
but it often took a long time by written question and answer to
collect all the details I needed.
The quiet, methodical Lieutenant Simpson seemed to be cap-
able of sitting down in the monsignor's crowded, always noisy,
room, and writing a detailed, flowing report, undistracted by the
babel of criss-cross conversation, but the more mercurial Lieu-
tenant Furman had no love at all for the system. Plaintively he
ended one brief report :
I can't think of anything else to say, but there are probably a
thousand and one things. Writing letters in "Golfs" room, in
company with twenty other people, all talking, is not the lightest
However, those who knew the circumstances accepted that it
was impossible for us to meet,
I never needed the advice of my lieutenants more than at
the beginning of March, when the growing number of men in
our care was beginning to swamp the organization, and I was
really worried as I left my room one day, to consult the British
Minister about a situation that was developing into a financial
I closed my door pensively, and turned to walk down the long,
straight corridor to the Minister's office. Then I stopped dead,
astonished at what I saw. Standing at the end of the corridor,
looking for all the world like a small lost dog, was the unmistak-
able figure of Lieutenant John Furman.
Ides of March
TORN between delight at seeing Lieutenant Furman again and
the fear that his sudden appearance meant the pace had become
too hot for him, and he had been forced to seek sanctuary in the
Vatican, I could not get him quickly enough into the security of
my own room. There, as we broached c the medicine bottle,' he
rapidly dispelled my fears.
"Just a social visit," he grinned. "I've been trying to get in to
see you ever since I arrived back in Rome, you know."
"But how the devil did you manage it ?" I asked.
The fairy-godmother had been the Princess Nini Pallavicini,
an old ally of mine from my days at the Collegio Teutonicum.
One of the leaders of the group of Roman noble families who had
consistently refused to co-operate with the Fascists, she had
dramatically escaped through a rear window of her palace apart-
ment as a raiding Fascist party entered through the front door,
and had made for the Collegio Teutonicum, where Monsignor
O'FIaherty gave her refuge, and where she eventually became one
of his most loyal helpers. She had a great deal to do with the
activities which enabled us to obtain Italian identity documents.
She had mentioned in casual conversation to Furman that on one
of the innumerable Italian saints' days she was going to attend ser-
vice in the chapel, which formed part of the Vatican building
where the British Legation was housed. He promptly asked to be
included. Princess Nini agreed that there was a reasonable chance
of getting him into the Vatican, as all seven or eight others in her
party were already well known by sight to the Pontifical Guards,
and were unlikely to be stopped for questioning.
Furman, a small inconspicuous figure, walked in the middle
of the group as they entered the Vatican, and was relieved to
observe that the only reaction from the guards was a glance
followed by a salute. They walked unmolested through the quiet
squares, and into the tall hospice building, where they all turned
towards the ground-floor chapel except Funnan, who bounded up
the main stairs to the fourth floor. The monsignor had told him
IDES OF MARCH 15!
that the British offices were on the top floor, but had not pointed
out that Furman would find himself in a long, deserted corridor,
with unlabelled doors leading off on either side. Panting and
puzzled, Furman was wondering which door would present the
least risk of disaster when, by chance, I emerged from my room.
"When I got up here, and found myself all alone, it seemed a
bit of an anticlimax," he said, "but your entrance was right on
We were joined in my room by John May, Captain Byrnes, and
the first secretary, Mr Montgomery, who suggested that before
too much 'medicine' had been dispensed, it might be advisable
to acquaint "Mount" of the unexpected visitor. Lieutenant Fur-
man, who had expected at best to have a few words with me in
some secluded comer, was not too happy about this, and expressed
concern that his uninvited and wholly unconstitutional appear-
ance in the legation might be an embarrassment, but I knew the
Minister well enough to guess that it would take more than this
to ruffle his equanimity.
When I presented Lieutenant Furman in as matter-of-fact a
manner as possible Sir D'Arcy Osborne did not reveal surprise
by so much as the lift of an eyebrow. He greeted Furman with
calm and warm courtesy, and I was once again lost in admira-
tion of the ability of this polished diplomat to create, in any sur-
roundings, the gracious atmosphere of an English country-house
party. Furman, so fresh from the streets where terror marched in
jack-boots, felt he had drifted into another world, and answered
Sir D'Arcy's questions about prevailing conditions in the city in
a slightly dazed manner. He left the legation that evening with
the Minister's congratulations on his work still ringing in his ears,
and with a new realization that his efforts and Simpson's, so far
from being a demi-official and largely unknown enterprise, were
fully appreciated in high places, and had the complete support
of the British Government. Furman returned to the outside world
with his little group of church-goers, leaving me to ponder on
that strange, indefinable quality, which made three men who
were as different as Sir D'Arcy Osborne, Monsignor O'Flaherty,
and Lieutenant Furman, each, in his own way, a great leader of
Furman declared that the visit had been like a potent tonic, and
said he had every intention of repeating the experiment, and
152 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
although I warned him that he must not employ the same trick
a second time, his ingenuity enabled him to get in once more.
He presented himself boldly at the Porta Santa Marta guard-
room with a large parcel prominently labelled To be delivered
personally to Sir D Arcy Osborne, K.CM.G.> and demanded, in
voluble Italian, to be allowed to accomplish his mission. The
guard, not surprisingly, told him to leave his parcel at the guard-
room, but Furman protested that he must hand it over himself or
not at all.
After further argument, the exasperated guard telephoned the
British Legation for some official to come down to the gate. John
May took the message, went to the guardroom, and, giving no
hint of recognition of the visitor, inspected the pared carefully,
and then told the guard that he was sure it would be all right for
the bearer to deliver it personally. Uncertainly, the guard ad-
mitted Furman, and John May took him to the legation, where
he led him, not to Sir D'Arcy, but to me.
I was, of course, delighted to see Furman, and we had another
gay little party, at which the guests this time included the latest
internee, Lieutenant Paul Freyberg. But while admiring Furman's
initiative, I felt that the risk was not justified. Without any sug-
gestion of reproach, I tried to convey to him my growing concern
at the chances constantly taken by Monsignor O'Flaherty, who
had already incurred the displeasure of the Germans, and was in
danger every time he stepped beyond the confines of his college.
The latest of the monsignor's escapades involved our senior
escaper, General Gambier-Parry, who, since his early eulogies of
the advantages of his secret room, had found its disadvantages
increasingly irksome. His messages to the monsignor clearly re-
vealed growing impatience at his enforced inactivity, and the
monsignor decided that the general should be taken on an outing.
He chose to take him to of all things an official celebration of
the Pope's birthday a reception at which our enemies would
outnumber our friends. Brother Robert collected the general from
the secret room, and took him by tram to St Peter's Square, where
they were met by the monsignor and some of his varied acquaint-
ances. The monsignor swept them along, introducing the general
on the way as an Irish doctor friend, in tones loud enough to be
heard by anybody they passed. At the party the "Irish doctor"
was happily introduced right and left by the monsignor to high-
IDES OF MARCH 153
ranking diplomats and other guests, and even collected a few
invitations to call at various legations. His charming personality
made a considerable impression on the distinguished gathering,
and I have no doubt that he found the party a great joy after the
social restrictions of his life in a doorless room.
But I heard about all this with mounting alarm, and it was not
for the general that I was concerned. Although he had waived his
unquestionable right to take over my command, he was still a
general, and I could scarcely order him to remain in his billet,
particularly since he was aware that many junior officers working
for the organization were moving about Rome fairly openly. The
safety of Monsignor O'Flaherty, however, was a different matter.
The organization he had founded remained heavily dependent
upon him and the priests who helped him, and we could not make
light of the fact that if he should be arrested his fate would not be
At the first opportunity I took the monsignor to task, telling
him quite frankly that I considered he had taken an unwarrant-
"Ah, the poor fellow needed a breath of air," he replied simply.
"He's been cooped up for weeks. Not good for him, you know."
"Now look, Monsignor," I said earnestly, "you know damn
well I can't give him orders. He's a general, and if he chooses to
go out and get himself recaptured there isn't much I can do about
it. But I have every reason for wanting you to stay in circulation,
and, heaven knows, you've attracted quite enough attention al-
ready. I do beg you to be as cautious as you possibly can, at least
until the German interest in you has died down a bit."
"Never fear, me boy," said the monsignor, treating me to one
of his vast, room-filling grins. "Ah, a pity it is I haven't brought
me dubs. We could have done a bit of putting practice. Nothing
like golf for knocking all the troubles of this poor world out of
That was as far as we got. I sometimes suspected that Mon-
signor O'Flaherty's overriding interest in golf was a sort of secret
weapon which enabled him to change the subject at will. Never-
theless, he did agree, eventually, that it was desirable to find
something less alarming than visits to Vatican receptions as exer-
cise for General Gambier-Pany, and by mid-March the general
was moved to a new billet, where he had some freedom, although
154 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
less luxury or security. He became a 'patient' at the hospital run
by the Little Sisters of Mary, known as the "Blue Sisters," at San
Stcfano Rotondo, where he was able to exercise in the grounds
without endangering himself or the organization, and there, in
fact, he remained safely until Rome was liberated.
The visits of General Gambier-Parry and Lieutenant Furman
to the Vatican were only two incidents in a period of audacious
enterprise, in which the gallant Greeks, as ever, were prominent.
I was intrigued when Angelo Averoff and Theodore Meletiou
("Mario"), leaders of the newly constituted Liberty or Death
movement, reported to me that they had managed not only to
hire a car, which was unheard of at that time, but also to obtain
all the complicated permits and coupons necessary to run it. These
they had borrowed from a leading Fascist, who, like many of his
kind, had an eye on the prospect of an early occupation of Rome by
the Allies, and was anxious to put himself back on the right side
of the fence, provided it did not involve him in any personal risk.
Equipped with car and documents, Averoff and Meletiou de-
cided to make an extended tour of northern Italy, to contact as
many Greek escapers as possible, and, as usual, they offered their
services to me. The offer was most timely, because I was ex-
periencing considerable difficulty in delivering supplies in the
north. In one district I was wholly reliant on a woman with a
donkey for distributions to more than eighty allied escapers.
When the car set off the Greeks carried with them 100,000
lire of Rome Organization money, and a large stock of clothing,
including dozens of pairs of boots, crammed in the back. I secretly
doubted if they could be successful, even with their library of
documents, in getting such a bulky cargo through the innumer-
able road-blocks, and I should have been even less hopeful had
I known that their personal equipment included the most dan-
gerous of all 'verboten 9 possessions : a miniature camera.
The gallant Greeks were confident and, in the event, un-
believably successful. When they returned three weeks later they
had motored for more than two thousand miles, reaching as far
north as Milan, and had contacted dozens of groups of escapers,
distributing clothing and money, and collecting information. They
brought back with them up-to-date lists of escapers, with names
and addresses of their next of kin, reports on the disposition of
German forces all over northern Italy, and to crown everything
IDES OF MARCH 155
an interesting series of photographs of German preparations
for a final defence line, only a few miles on the Italian side of the
I did not risk sending the photographs back to our lines, for
they revealed nothing of immediate value, but had them packed
in a tin, and buried in the Vatican gardens, pending the arrival
of Allied intelligence units. The new lists of escapers, and par-
ticularly of next of kin, were of more immediate interest, as I
always considered that one of the important tasks of the organiza-
tion was the prompt dispatch of news of escapers who, so far as
their families were concerned, were simply missing, and we had
developed a number of secret ways of achieving the flow of this
welcome information out of Rome.
Much of the other information collected by the Greeks was
filtered back to Allied headquarters, but what I should have most
liked to send at that juncture was a heartfelt plea to get on with
the advance, for the delay was making it increasingly difficult
for us to maintain an adequate supply of billets.
There was also another factor, over which we had no control,
which was making the finding of billets daily more difficult for
Furman and Simpson. Inflation was galloping through Rome.
The rationing system had broken down almost completely, and
prices were soaring. The German Military Government had with-
drawn their earlier ban on the importation of food into the city,
and, in fact, were now trying to foster it, but this had resulted in
only a small increase in supplies alongside a substantial expansion
of the black market in food-stuffs at sky-high prices.
To find billets is becoming more and more difficult, principally
because the food question is becoming more and more serious
[wrote Simpson]. The position now is very different from even
two months ago : in that time there has been an average increase
in the price of all commodities of from 80 to 100 per cent
Close on the heels of this depressing report came another.
Here are particulars of three others, whom we are due to collect
on Wednesday God knows where we axe going to put them.
The billeting officers were pressing for more money, but what
they could not know was that the total cost of the organization
was now running at about two million lire a month, or more than
156 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
a thousand pounds a week, and there was no margin at all. Sir
D'Arcy Osborne had already worked miracles'in securing fabulous
quantities of lire notes, but I was plagued by the fear that the
supply might suddenly dry up.
About this time I found myself in a dilemma from another
quarter. On the one hand, Furman and Simpson were pleading
for an increase in the billeting allowance of 120 lire a day, and
on the other, the British Minister was passing on complaints from
other legations that our billeting allowance was too high. I dis-
cussed the Rome problem from all angles with the Minister, but
the 'official view 9 I had to relay back was not encouraging for
Furman and Simpson :
1 20 lire a day is higher than the subsistence paid by other Allied
nations (Poles, French, Russians, Jugoslavs, etc.), and, in fact, we
have been criticized by the others for paying out at the i20-lire
rate they say it has cut them out of the billet market Of the
money paid out, the odd 120 people in Rome cost much more per
head per day than the remaining 2500 : in fact, 120 in Rome cost
us about half a million in February while the remaining 2500 cost
us about one-and-a-quarter million (and, by the way, officially,
cigarettes are not regarded as necessary for living). I fear, John
and Bill, that all this will be answered by one rude word, but I
just can't help it.
By anticipating that my hard-pressed lieutenants would respond
with a terse epithet, I misjudged them, for Simpson's reply was
thoughtful, tolerant, and sympathetic.
We think they are all very reasonable points [he wrote], I cer-
tainly sympathize with you in your position you get all the
knocks from both sides.
Simpson had, however, no intention of accepting defeat with-
out stating his case, and he continued :
Rome is, as you already know, an entirely different proposition
from the country; we all know that, having experienced both, and
having lived quite well in the country without any money at all.
The Romani, on the other hand, are money-conscious. . . .
All this argument did result in one small victory, and we were
able to arrange payment on a flat rate of 4000 lire a month,
representing an extra ten to fourteen lire a day.
IDES OF MARCH 157
It was perhaps unfortunate for the billeting officers that just
at this time the British Minister was receiving reports that some
of our officers had been seen dining in luxurious hotels. Many had
managed to make their own arrangements with well-to-do Italians
for cashing cheques or providing lire against an IOU payable
after the arrival of the Allied forces, and so long as they used this
money for the purchase of extra comforts, or even to finance
parties in the safety of their billets, I was not concerned, but some
Although they did not go out of the way to draw attention to
themselves, the whisper began to pass round, "Rome is starving,
yet escaped British officers are dining in the best hotels." On both
points it was an exaggeration, but in its more dangerous form the
whisper became, "Why should I risk my life to help ex-prisoners
when British officers can be seen in the best restaurants ?" Italians
spoke to their parish priests; the priests passed it on to the bishops;
the bishops reported it to the Vatican; and from the Vatican
Secretariat of State the British Minister would receive an austere
inquiry whether he was aware that British officers had been seen
dining in the same restaurant as Germans.
I asked Simpson and Furman to ensure that cscapers with
money of their own spent it discreetly, making it clear that I was
excepting them from the general complaint. They were now
working and living separately, and kept in touch with each other
by meeting for a meal or a drink, which was more pleasant and
less dangerous than calling at each other's billets. I had no doubt
of their ability to deal with trouble. Unlike the men in their charge,
they were accustomed to moving openly about Rome; they spoke
the language, and knew how to behave as Italians; they had
friendly contacts in the places they visited who could be trusted
to warn them of impending danger, and, above all, they were
both capable of carrying off difficult situations with astonishing
On one occasion Simpson was waiting for Furman in an other-
wise empty bar when a group of German officers strode in, accom-
panied by a flat-nosed giant, who was immediately recognizable
as the idol of Germany the heavyweight boxing champion, Max
Schmeling. Simpson knew that if he attempted to walk out the
Germans would interpret his action as a protest by an unfriendly
Italian, and would immediately haul him back, but if he remained
158 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
where he was, silent and alone, they would probably become sus-
picious anyway. He therefore did the only other thing he could
think of : he invited them all to join him in a drink. The Germans
accepted, and in due course returned the compliment, and before
long they were all gathered round the piano, singing popular
songs together. Simpson became quite the life and soul of the
party, but when the Germans invited him to join them for dinner
he decided that it had gone far enough, so, with diffidence and
charm, excused himself, and departed.
It was not only the spending of officers that gave me cause for
concern. As the days dragged on, and the relief of Rome, which
had seemed near in January, remained as far off as ever, the men
in the billets became frustrated and bored, and some got drunk
with money borrowed against lOU's, or, in a few bad cases, with
money which should have been given to their Italian 'padrones.'
They seemed to be incapable of realizing that they lacked the
native capacity for vino, and I began to receive disturbing reports
of men wandering drunkenly back from wine-shops to their
billets disturbing, because there was no surer way of attracting
attention to the homes of our Italian helpers. The thoughtless
few were never more than a tiny proportion of the men in Rome,
but they were a dangerous minority, since the arrest of a single
drunken escaper could easily lead to the execution of an Italian
and the imprisonment of his family.
I clamped down firmly on this crack in discipline, and every
case reported was investigated at once. Sometimes the circum-
stances revealed were not very serious, but even in these cases I
issued stern warnings. To one private I wrote :
I have heard of the affair of a few nights ago, when you were
in an intoxicated condition. I really wonder if you can realize
what is being done for you by various people (for example, the
people in whose house you live, and the padre friends). Do you
understand that as the result of an affair like that of the other
evening, these people might have lost their lives? And if anything
like that happened you, and you alone, would have been respon-
sible; a thing that would be on your conscience all your life. Any
future conduct contrary to good order and discipline will have
serious consequences afterwards. In the circumstances under which
you are living at the moment an affair of this kind is made all the
more serious because the safety of your comrades is endangered
as well as your own.
IDES OF MARCH 159
To an Indian soldier I wrote :
It has come to my notice that you are taking unnecessary risks,
which not only may lead to your recapture, but may also lead to
the recapture of your comrades. Apart from this there is the danger
of reprisals on the local people and their friends, who are assisting
you and your comrades. In view of this you are to remain in
hiding, and go out only when absolutely necessary. I realize that
you have probably been confined now for a very long period, but
I am sure you would not wish to endanger others.
These were relatively mild cases, but in really serious instances,
as well as preparing (and burying) reports for disciplinary action
in the future, I did not hesitate to expel offenders from Rome.
To one trooper I wrote :
I have received a full report on your atrocious behaviour during
the last week. I have made out a full report which will be sent to
the proper authorities. You are to get out of Rome at once. Im-
mediately after the liberation of Rome by the Allies, you will
have to answer charges.
It was a difficult time all round, and one billet in particular
seemed to be occupying a good deal of Lieutenant Furman's
attention. It was a flat run by a woman named Teresa, who was,
I think, the only one of our 'padrones' who ever attempted to
make her living by looking after escaped prisoners-of-war.
I had first come into contact with her when I was doing the
outside work now done by others. She was an acquaintance of
Mrs Chevalier, and agreed to take a couple of officers in her
furnished rooms. When the firm for which she worked was evacu-
ated to another part of Italy she gave up her job and her rooms,
but approached John Furman with an offer to take the lease of
a flat, providing the organization would give an undertaking to
billet a couple of escapers with her. Furman agreed with the idea,
but was captured in the January raids before he had made any
firm agreement with her about payment, which was a pity, be-
cause during my time she had put in such enormous expense
accounts that I had to move her lodgers elsewhere.
When Furman returned to duty he was promptly presented
by Teresa with large expense accounts, and, referring them to
me, he pointed out that the position was very tricky because it
l6o THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
was clear that Teresa had spent her own money on building up
Furman had a long session with Teresa, but even his nimble
accountant's brain could not break down her claims, and he
reported back sadly, "We argued about it, but there is little that
can be done."
"Well, try to keep her down to the minimum," I replied.
"Billets are far too hard to find now but tell her to keep the
bills down, anyway."
Realization of the existence of people like Teresa, willing to
make a full-time job of looking after escapers, led us to establish,
for the first time since the fall of the Via Firenze and Via Chelini
flats, an 'elastic billet/ capable of holding large numbers tem-
porarily in emergency. It occurred to Furman that if we could
obtain a large apartment cheaply, and install our own 'padrone'
in it, many of our present troubles would be overcome. I approved,
and, through Princess Nini's lawyer, Furman obtained a suitable
flat at a nominal rent. The lease was signed in the name of a
woman known as Sara, who was installed there to take charge of
it. She was, it need hardly be added, a friend of Teresa.
The two original clearing-houses were now, of course, dis-
tinctly out of bounds, and we kept well away from them until
there came what seemed to be a message from the dead. The
telephone rang at the home of our friends, Renzo and Adrienne
Lucidi, and Renzo, answering cautiously, as always, said simply,
"Hello ?" "Renzo," said a once familiar voice at the other end.
"Where are you ?" asked Renzo excitedly.
"In Rome," replied Pollak. "At the Via Chelini flat."
"Good God !" said Renzo. He had reason to be horrified be-
cause he knew that the flat was now in the occupation of Dr
Ubaldo Cipolla, who had helped Monsignor O'Flaherty to obtain
it in the first place, and had allowed it to be registered in his name,
but subsequently, we discovered, had worked as a secret agent
for the Germans.
Renzo Lucidi had another reason to be astonished. For a long
time after Pottak's arrest we had been unable to get any news of
him at all, and when at last we did it was to the effect that he
had been shot as a spy.
In the eight weeks since we last saw him the little Cypriot,
IDES OF MARCH l6l
whom I had once suspected of treachery, had gone through some
incredible adventures, and they had taken their toll savagely upon
him. When he was returned to Sulmona with the Italian girl,
Iride, after his arrest on January 6, Pollak was shocked to find
that all the principal Italian helpers of escapers in Sulmona were
in custody, for the Australian medical orderly, who had posed as
an R.A.M.C. captain, had made a thorough job of his denuncia-
tions. This man, picked up drunk and subsequently plied with
more drink, cigarettes, and other creature comforts, had led his
German captors systematically from billet to billet. Every 'cell 9
known to the Australian fell, and many of our escapers, as well
as more than a dozen Italian families, were arrested, with his
Pollak, heavily implicated in a statement by Iride as the man
who had distributed money to the billets, claimed he had been
carrying out instructions by a British officer whose name he did
not know, but he ran up against an unexpected difficulty in that
he was unable to establish his own identity as a prisoner-of-war.
The Germans, realizing that he was not English, accused him of
being a Jew (which, to the Nazis, was a capital offence), and beat
him up several times, leaving him without blankets or heating in
a cold cell, where, not surprisingly, he contracted pneumonia.
Then Pollak was charged with being a traitor and a spy, and
the firing-squad seemed inevitable, but on the way to the court
he passed a group of British prisoners-of-war, who were being
marched to the gaol. Among them he recognized an officer he had
known at Chieti camp, and, in the nick of time, succeeded in
establishing his prisoner-of-war identity. He was merely sentenced
to be returned to a prison camp.
At the same court three of our Italian helpers from Sulmona
were sentenced to death, several others were deported to Germany,
where their expectation of life would be little more favourable, and
all the rest were sent to prison. Fortunately, the three men who
had received the ultimate sentence all managed to escape before
the Germans could carry it out.
Joe Pollak was among several who escaped when, at the very
moment they were being loaded on to a train bound for Ger-
many, the R.A.F. chose to bomb the station, and with a com-
panion he turned his footsteps at once to Rome.
Using his excellent Italian, Pollak organized a lift in the back
l62 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
of a lorry, and all went well until they reached the road-block
outside Rome. Pollak slipped over the side as the lorry halted, and
crawled underneath, but his companion was promptly discovered
by the guards, who did not take long to come to the conclusion
that he was British. Two armed soldiers were put aboard as escorts,
and the hapless driver was told to set off for the nearest German
barracks. Pollak was clinging to the underside of the lorry, and
could not let go without immediately attracting the attention of
the road-block guards, so he hung on painfully until it slowed
almost to a halt at the sharp turn into the barracks, and then
gratefully released his frozen grip. Picking himself up, he walked
on into Rome.
Believing that the calamity in which he was involved on
January 6 had been confined to Sulmona, and knowing nothing
of the Rome disaster of January 8, he was completely unaware
of the changes that had occurred. It was therefore natural for
him to make his way to the Via Chelini flat, and give the familiar
secret ring on the doorbell, expecting to be welcomed by Bruno
Biichner, or Herta. He was alarmed when he found that the
apartment contained nobody he knew, and was occupied by the
plump Dr Cipolla and his Russian-born wife, but there was no
turning back, so he told them frankly who he was.
Surprised, but not put out, they invited him in. Pollak was in
luck because his sudden appearance was the answer to Dr
Cipolla's prayer, for the doctor saw in Joe a means of getting back
on to good terms with the British Organization. We had gone to
great pains so satisfy ourselves that he had revealed nothing of the
little he knew about us to the Gestapo, and had been in no way
responsible for the raiding of the Via Chelini flat. Cipolla, in fact,
sought to be a double-agent, working for friends on both sides, so
that he was safe while the Germans remained in Rome, yet with
something to plead in his favour when they were evicted.
He treated Pollak with generosity and consideration, telling
him repeatedly that he was anxious to do anything he could to
help British escapers an anxiety doubtless strengthened by the
rumble of Anzio gunfire, which occasionally rattled the windows
of his home. However, it was with some misgiving that Renzo
Lucidi agreed to Joe's request to take a new suit to the apartment
of frightening memories, and when he left he carefully side-
tracked Cipolla's friendly inquiries about their destination.
IDES OF MARCH 163
Pollak's somewhat rash descent upon the Via Chelini flat had
given the Rome Organization at least one useful piece of informa-
tion we knew exactly where Dr Cipolla stood. From what I
knew of the character of the man, I was sure that whatever help
he gave to the Germans in other directions, he would not risk
certain retribution by revealing any information about the or-
ganization, so I kept in touch with him, and made use of him in
many small ways. The situation intrigued me no end : it was
the only time I ever had a known German agent on my staff.
Pollak was moved to one of our safest billets under the care of
Lieutenant Simpson, and I authorized payment to him at the
'staff rate* of 200 lire a day, made up his back pay, including the
sum of his own money, which he had lost when he was arrested,
and ordered that he should lie low for at least a fortnight.
I wanted Pollak to be kept out of the way until I had made
quite certain that there would be no double-crossing by Dr
Cipolla, but there was, in fact, a much stronger reason, which
I did not know at the time, for Pollak to rest : his pneumonia
had turned to tuberculosis.
When Simpson and Furman realized that his condition was
serious they suggested that he should be smuggled into the
Vatican, but I knew that this course would ultimately amount
to handing Pollak over to the Germans. "Getting him into the
Vat. would not help in the least," I explained, "because when
people are sick here they are sent out into Rome nursing-homes.
If he really has T.B. I would strongly recommend Switzerland.
The chaps there are having a hell of a fine time. It would mean
the end of the war before he could get home, but he would stand
a good chance of getting cured."
The two lieutenants agreed that this course and it was one
which we could organize with little difficulty was the best, but
Pollak settled the issue by proving to be as stubborn as Private
Anderson had been. He flatly refused to accept medical attention
if it meant his removal from the war.
"No, thanks," he said. "If I am only fit to work one day a
week I shall do more good here than I would in Switzerland.
Anyway, it can't be for long now."
With both front lines completely static, I was not so certain, but
I would not consider ordering Pollak to leave Rome against his
own inclination. Besides, I could understand his determination
164 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
to remain on active service at all costs. After being beaten
up several times and left to freeze by the Germans, he had a
personal score to settle. On the other hand, it was clear that he
was quite unable to take over responsibility for a complete group
of billets, so I instructed Furman and Simpson to use him as an
assistant whenever he was fit, and to see that he was well looked
after whenever he was ill. Pollak was content with this arrange-
ment, and willingly dragged his weakened body about the streets
of Rome, but there were many occasions when he was confined
to his bed for long periods.
Most of the escapers had no knowledge of the existence of the
organization, and sometimes the admirable caution exercised by
new arrivals was so extreme that we were quite unable to establish
contact with them. On one occasion Lieutenant Simpson spent
days searching in vain for a group of Americans, who had sent
out a call for assistance by such devious and circumspect channels
that he never could trace it back.
Another time Renzo Lucidi wasted a valuable day searching
for an American-born Jugoslav whom I was already watching
fairly closely because I had a suspicion that he had appropriated
for his own use money collected ostensibly for a group hiding
some distance outside Rome. I had no idea that Renzo Lucidi
was looking for this dubious character until Lieutenant Simpson
I enclose a photograph of this American, who is supposed to
be suffering from appendicitis. "Rinso" traced him as far as a hotel
in Rome, and he had apparently left a few days before. Do you
know anything about him?
Yes, I know all about him and his location [I replied at once].
We can do nothing for him at present as the U.S. Legation will
not accept him until he is checked by the Swiss. He has had clothes
from us and, I rather think, cash that was intended for the
I was only interested in his appendix [replied Simpson laconic-
If some escapers were difficult to find, others were a good deal
too conspicuous for our liking. The diminutive Lieutenant Fur-
man, who could always pass in an Italian crowd, even with his
IDES OF MARCH 165
red hair and moustache, had a particular aversion to guiding big,
blond, obviously British types through the busy streets. He was
never more shattered than when he answered a message from
Monsignor O'Flaherty to pick up a couple of new arrivals, and
found himself face to face, in St Peter's Square, with two vast six-
footers a guardsman named Bensley and a highlander named
McBride. Both would have been conspicuous enough in conven-
tional clothes, and in the ragged and tattered remains of their
prison-camp dress they could hardly fail to attract attention.
Shuddering, Furman led them to the tram stop, and then, de-
ciding that he could not face a ride in such spectacular company,
changed his mind and hailed a carrozza. As they jolted off in the
cab, Furman, feeling that every eye in Rome was turning towards
them, wondered if he had done the right thing, and his heart
sank as he observed two mounted policemen trotting up behind
them. Wordlessly, he motioned to his companions to remain
silent, and, for a heart-thumping age, watched warily as the
policemen drew gradually closer. They were almost up to the
carozza when suddenly they wheeled smartly into a side-street
and were gone, entirely disinterested in the two tattered giants
and their dapper little companion. At the billet he had arranged
for them Funnan found another shock awaiting him, for the door
was locked, and there was nobody at home. He had to leave
Bensley and McBride standing conspicuously outside, in full view
of inquisitive passers-by, while he went off in search of the 'pad-
rone,' and it was with astonishment that on his return with the
Italian he found them still there, stoic and unmolested.
"Taking Bensley and McBride through Rome," an exhausted
Furman reported to me later, "is like carrying a Union Jack in
Lieutenant Simpson also was having his moments. Leaving
Monsignor O'Flaherty's office one day, he found himself walk-
ing through the colonnades towards a bearded, uniformed Fas-
cist, whom he recognized at once as the man who had been the
despised adjutant at the Chieti prison camp. The Fascist was
walking slowly with a pretty woman, and Simpson stepped in
front of them, stuck out his hand, and announced in Italian,
"Remember me ? I was one of your guests at Chieti."
Dumbfounded, the Fascist ignored the proffered hand, stared
at the British officer a smart, confident figure, very unlike the
l66 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
ragged subaltern he remembered and then exploded. "We are
enemies, you know. What makes you think I shall not have you
arrested immediately ?"
"You are an officer and a gentleman," Simpson replied blandly.
"You could never bring yourself to take advantage of a social
meeting like this."
He had judged his man's conceit shrewdly. The Fascist, acutely
conscious of the eyes of his pretty companion upon him, con-
trolled his anger with a visible effort, and jutted out his bearded
"Don't be too sure of yourself. If I were you," he said, playing
his r61e of officer and gentleman carefully, "I should exercise a
little caution in future."
"No doubt you are right," replied Simpson, turning away. "I
should pick my acquaintances with greater care."
This incident was not reported to me at the time, for Lieutenant
Simpson knew well enough what would have been my reaction
to such an unnecessary risk, taken by the only one of my military
assistants who had so far managed to avoid recapture.
On the whole, however, it seemed that with Furman and Pollak
back in Rome, we had entered into a fairly satisfactory period.
There were no raids on billets, there was a steady stream of
supplies to escapers, and we successfully developed one or two
Among these was the establishment of contact with Allied
prisoners-of-war in hospitals in and around Rome. Their numbers
had been increasing since the Anzio landings, and they were under
direct German guard, so there was little we could do to help
them escape, even had they been physically capable of making
the attempt, but we were able to smuggle cigarettes and other
small luxuries in to them. Thanks mainly to Brother Robert Pace,
whose own Order ran one of the hospitals used as casualty clear-
ing stations, we were fully informed of the arrival and condition
of all wounded Allied prisoners-of-war, and were able, not only
to distribute comforts, but to send news of their safety to their
next of kin.
We also contrived, chiefly through the expenditure of more
than 6000 lire in bribes, to establish contact with most of the
recaptured escapers held in the Regina Coeli, the Forte Boccea,
and other prisons in Rome, and we managed to get parcels of
IDES OF MARCH 167
food, clothing, and money which we knew, from Furman's ex-
perience, could be put to good use through to most of them.
"Sorry we didn't think of it while you were inside," I told Fur-
Things were going so smoothly that even if I had studied the
calendar more closely I should not have thought that after nearly
two thousand years it was still necessary to "beware the Ides of
March." But on March 15, 1944, there were three grim portents
There was nothing ominous about the first : the mass bombing
of the mountain monastery of Monte Cassino. The town of Cas-
sino had been the anchor of the stubborn German defence line
in the south throughout the long winter, and above it, massive,
unapproachable, and impregnable, perched the great monastery,
overlooking the whole of the Allied lines west of the mountains.
To what extent it had been fortified by the Germans was un-
certain, but it was a unique observation-post, and its effect on
the morale of the troops was depressive. Every concentration and
every move they attempted was in the conscious knowledge that
the great stone vulture hanging in the sky above them had its
beady eyes fixed firmly on what they were doing. It was therefore
no surprise to any member of the Allied forces when, on the
return of bombers' weather, every available aircraft unloaded
high explosive on to Cassino and its forbidding monastery, and
the men in the line must have felt a curious relief as the stone-
clad mountain-top disappeared in the smoke of more than a
thousand tons of bombs.
But the raid was a psychological disaster from the point of view
of the Rome Organization. All our Italian helpers were good
Catholics, who had always thought of Allied bombing as being
directed against specific military objectives, although they ap-
preciated that damage might be done to other property in the
process, and they could not understand how a Catholic monas-
tery, still occupied by its monks, could be a military objective.
Our priests were placed in a particularly delicate position, and it
took all the tact and persuasion of which Lieutenants Furman and
Simpson were capable to assuage the doubts of loyal Italian
helpers, who had never before questioned the morality of any
action taken by the Allies.
The second omen on March 15 was the unexpected death of a
l68 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
member of the administrative staff who was in good health, and
in no danger from the Germans. Sub-Lieutenant R. C. Elliott,
a young naval officer, who was one of the first four Britishers
interned at the Vatican, where he celebrated his twenty-first birth-
day, had been working as principal assistant to Captain Byrnes,
on our records.
But he was a survivor of one of the most terrible experiences
that can befall a man in war, and night after night, in the relative
security of the Vatican, he relived in vivid nightmares his des-
perate struggle to escape from a submarine plunging to its doom
after being torpedoed in the Mediterranean. In the small hours
of March 15, rushing from his bed in a nightmare panic, he
crashed through the window, and fell three storeys to his death
on the flagstones below. He was the only internee to die within the
city throughout the war, and the Vatican authorities arranged
an impressive funeral. I could not help thinking, as I sadly
watched the cortege pass, that if tragedy could strike so suddenly
at those of us in safety, then the lives of those who walked with
danger in Rome hung, indeed, on a slender thread.
The third portent of that ominous day was more clearly a
threat to the organization. I received a warning that an Italian
named Grossi, who had helped us in a small way on one or two
occasions, had been seen working with the Fascists. Although his
denunciation had not so far seemed to be connected with us, I was
fearful that he might know some of the Italian families providing
billets. I was especially afraid that he might, through her own
lack of caution, get on to Mrs Chevalier, whose tiny flat had once
again been pressed back into service. I immediately informed
Lieutenants Furman and Simpson of Grossi's liaison with the
Fascists, but was relieved to learn that they already knew about
it, and had taken precautions.
To Simpson, who was responsible for Mrs Chevalier, I wrote :
"Mrs M." is a wonderful woman but no idea of security. It
is essential that Grossi does not know that we know of his
activities. My suggestion is that "Mrs M.'s" is used as little as
possible for permanent places; also, if possible, she should not be
told the exact position of permanent places.
"Mrs M.," etc., are fully aware of this gentleman's recent
activities, and are on guard [Simpson replied]. "Mrs M." has had
IDES OF MARCH l6g
five people staying with her for about ten days now, and because
of new arrivals I have not been able to reduce the number so
Denunciation by somebody on the fringe of the organization
was the threat I feared most, and I had all Grossi's movements
observed as closely as possible. In our sort of work, to be fore-
warned was half the victory, but I did not want Grossi to suspect
that we were watching him, because I thought it possible that he,
like Dr Cipolla, was playing some sort of double game, and I did
not intend to risk putting him wholly against us.
But I never foresaw that the causes of a coming crisis for the
Rome Organization were a bogus priest and a bomb in a rubbish
BY mid-March the Rome Organization was big business. The
total number of escapers and evaders on our books had risen in
less than three weeks by 800 to 3423, and the number in Rome
itself had gone up by sixty to 1 80.
Our operations on the black market were so immense, it is
not improbable that we were a primary factor in the farcical
breakdown of the Roman official rationing system. Apart from
our constant search for food, we were always on the lookout
for clothing, since the supply of surplus garments given by
Italian helpers had by now dried up almost completely. Our
expenditure on the black-market clothing rose from 107,000
lire in January to 157,000 lire in February and to 187,000 lire
'Customers' now included 400 Russian escapers, to whom help
was being channelled through a Russian priest, Father Dorotheo
Bezchctnoff, appointed by Monsignor O'Flaherty, and assisted
by two Russian women who had formerly served in the Red
Cross. During March this group was joined by a lieutenant-
colonel, who sent a charmingly worded message of thanks to
the organization for all the help that his countrymen had
As the total numbers swelled, so the financial burden increased,
but it was eased to some extent by the departure of two or three
hundred who, as the winter reached its peak, found their moun-
tain hides in the north of the country no longer tenable, and made
their way over the border into Switzerland. Others joined the
armed bands of Italian guerillas, gradually being formed behind
the German lines, who were adequately supplied with money,
clothing, and food of their own. At least one group outside Rome
made itself financially independent by negotiating a large loan
from local industrialists.
With the organization generally going along so smoothly, it
was irksome as well as distressing whenever any escaper was re-
captured, although less alarming than the arrest of an Italian
hdper or 'padrone/ whose life in German hands was not likely
to be worth much, but I was especially annoyed when one par-
ticular officer was taken.
Captain Milner was the last of our Roman residents I would
have expected to be captured, because he had never given us
cause for a moment's concern. Because of his very English ap-
pearance and almost complete lack of understanding of Italian,
he had been warned at the outset that it would be dangerous for
him and those who helped him if he ventured out, despite the
fact that his billet was most uncongenial.
He never complained, but eventually it became clear that he
was unhappy, and when a vacancy occurred we arranged to move
him. This time his luck was in, for we had found him the luxury
flat of a glamorous Italian film actress, Flora Volpini. Two or
three days later, bounding with joy and new confidence, he set
off on his first lone outing to his former billet, to pay off a debt
of a few thousand lire. But he never arrived, and he never re-
turned to his new home. Swiss contacts discovered that he was
languishing in the Regina Coeli, where he had been taken after
walking slap into a routine police check. There was nothing we
could do for him beyond smuggling the usual comforts into the
prison, but it seemed a pity for his splendid billet to be wasted, so
Lieutenant Simpson packed his bag, and moved in.
The capture of the captain was unfortunate, but the next blow
landed on our most vulnerable point : the priests. On March 16
Brother Robert Pace went to a village on the outskirts of Rome
to collect a couple of escapers who were to be taken straight to a
billet. "Whitebows," as usual, accomplished his mission with
success, but as he introduced them to their hosts, Andrea Casadi
and Vittorio Fantini, the two 'escapers,' instead of extending their
hands in greeting, pulled out ugly revolvers. They were Gestapo
Brother Robert and the two Italians knew that they were
trapped. They were marched at pistol point through the streets
of Rome to die headquarters of the Gestapo, in Via Tasso a
place more dreaded than even the worst of Rome's notorious
prisons, as it was the undisputed centre of the fine art of torture.
They were separated, and eight days later the two Italians were
shot. Brother Robert knew only too well what this meant, for the
survivor, from whom the Gestapo aimed to extract information,
172 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
could expect only inhuman torture right up to, but never beyond,
the point of death.
He thought little of his chance of survival, but stuck doggedly
to his story that he had received a request from a village priest to
guide two people to an address in Rome, and had naturally, and
without question, agreed to render this small service to a brother
in the Church. He also pointed out that he was well known to
his captors' military superiors in Rome, and this registered on
Teutons well trained in subservience to senior rank. As a result,
"Whitebows" was allowed to send a message to the superior at his
Mother house a school now being used as a casualty clearing
At the hospital Brother Robert had provided little gifts and
comforts for the wounded Germans with the same unselfish
generosity that he had shown towards Allied prisoners. The Ger-
man army therefore thought highly of him, and indicated that
they would like to see him back as soon as possible. Doubtfully,
the Gestapo allowed him to return to his Mother house for the
time being, but warned him that he was likely at any rate to be
recalled for further "questioning." We all realized that the Ges-
tapo, frustrated for the moment, would continue their investiga-
tions, so it was agreed that the time had come for Brother Robert
to 'disappear.' Thus, although a life was saved, the organization
lost yet another of its most valuable helpers.
But it was the bomb in the rubbish cart that really made things
difficult. The various Communist underground organizations in
Rome had shown gallantry and initiative on many occasions, but
we never saw quite eye to eye. They constantly derided the idea
of giving help to escaped prisoners-of-war, and insisted that the
proper function of all enemies of the German Reich was sabo-
tage. The destruction by our own men of the railway viaduct
had provided one painful example of the disadvantages of blow-
ing things up, but another even more spectacular lesson was to
The Communists kept a dose eye on everything done by the
Germans, and their plans were frequently assisted by the Teutonic
characteristic of uniformity and routine. In Rome, as elsewhere,
the Germans insisted on doing everything in exactly the same way
at the same time day after day, and it did not take the Com-
munists long to discover that at two o'clock every afternoon a
large squad of German soldiers marched down the Via Rasella
on their way to the bath-house.
When the grey column tramped along the street on March 22
it passed an unattended rubbish cart, which at a glance looked
innocent if unsavoury, but which, in fact, contained a bomb care-
fully constructed and placed there by the Communists. The Ger-
mans, as usual, were absolutely punctual, and so was the timing
mechanism devised by the saboteurs. At the instant that the
column came abreast of the rubbish cart, the giant time-bomb
went off with a shattering roar.
The cart vaporized, window-glass clattered to the ground from
end to end of the smoke-filled street, and, like flotsam on the edge
of a sudden wave, bodies and bits of bodies were spread in a
bloody, groaning semicircle. The explosion had caught the Ger-
mans absolutely in the centre of the passing column, and the result
was indescribable chaos. Thirty-two of the Germans were killed
outright or died soon afterwards, and most of the survivors had
some form of injury.
I had known nothing in advance of this devastating operation,
though aware few in Rome could fail to be that the various
Communist groups made a practice of letting off small explosions
regularly throughout the city. The first news within an hour of
the big bang in Via Rasella was somewhat garbled, but, even
allowing for exaggeration, I could see that this time our Com-
munist associates had achieved more than usual.
It was, of course, a most effective piece of sabotage, for even
an Allied bomber, while perhaps doing more widespread dam-
age, could scarcely have expected to write off a larger number
of German troops in a single blow. But I had the suspicion that
this was the sort of blow that would turn into a boomerang, for
although the Germans were frequently confused by the destruction
of property, they always retaliated sharply when German life
was destroyed, usually on the principle of half a dozen eyes for
an eye, and I was anxious. My official responsibility was for the
Allied escapers and evaders directly under my command, but I
felt even more strongly my moral responsibility for the lives of the
Italians who were looking after them; a recaptured escaper still
had a reasonable chance of survival, despite his civilian clothing,
but an Italian arrested on any pretext at the present time was
174 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
I decided to reduce evidence for Germans making round-ups
and minimize the risk of re-arrests by emptying all billets as far
as possible. Our messengers were sent scurrying about Rome, and
before the blood had been swabbed from the Via Rasella, dozens
of ex-prisoners had already moved out of their billets into in-
adequate temporary hiding-places, in parks and public gardens.
The men for whom I was responsible were uncomfortable and in
considerable risk of recapture, but the homes of their 'padrones'
were innocent again.
If anything I underestimated the lengths to which the Ger-
mans would go. Their immediate reaction was as I had expected:
they brought the curfew hour forward to half-past five in the
evening, and enforced it rigidly, shooting first, and asking ques-
tions afterwards. I had surmised that the next step would be an
intensified series of raids and round-ups, followed by the beating-
ups and shootings, which had become the hallmark of Kultur,
and I was surprised when no reports flooded in of families roughly
shaken awake in the middle of the night, and carted off to the
dungeons. Instead, the Germans revealed another form of retribu-
tion, and it was a horrible object lesson in ice-cold inhumanity.
Indiscriminately, from the prisons of the city, they took ten
prisoners for every soldier killed in the bombing a motley mis-
cellany of political prisoners and prostitutes, outspoken journa-
lists and unthinking juveniles, pilferers and petty offenders, many
of whom had faced no trial, and some of whom knew not with
what they were charged. Their hands tied behind their backs,
the 320 prisoners were taken through the streets of Rome to the
Ardeatine Caves, at Domitilla. There they were bundled in
batches into the forbidding cavern entrances, and mown down
by machine-gun fire. The terrible slaughter lasted through several
hours of the grim night : hours during which those who were to
die stood impotcntly, and watched their comrades fall.
When the hot barrels of the machine-guns were silent at last
the Germans placed land-mines in the rock, and blew in the
entrance to the caves, presumably to save the trouble of burial,
but possibly to prevent Italians from recovering the bodies, and
perhaps getting help to any who might have escaped death.
That some did survive the savage machine-gunning was proved
later, when post-mortem examinations revealed dust inhaled into
the lungs. They had been entombed alive.
Piecing reports together with growing horror, I was acutely
conscious that more than forty of our escapers and Italian helpers
had been in the prisons when the Germans selected (if such a word
can be used without irony) their hostages, and I put all available
contacts to work on the task of ascertaining who had been the
victims of the barbaric butchery. When the position clarified we
knew that five of our Italian helpers had perished, including the
gallant radio-operator, Umberto Losena, who had given such
tremendous help to me during my first few weeks in Rome, and
who had been in the Regina Coeli ever since his arrest.
German security forces in the city were substantially
strengthened, and as many as 2000 extra S.S. and security men
were brought into Rome. Enemies swarmed everywhere, seem-
ingly armed to the teeth, and never alone, doubling the danger
of the work of all our agents, and making any violation of the
curfew, however small, completely impossible.
The worst development of all was the return to prominence
of the most vicious elements of the Italian Fascist movement, who
were formed into a special security gang, with full German sup-
port, and powers overriding those of the police and the Republi-
can Guard (which the military governors knew very well would,
in the main, go over at the first opportunity to the Allied cause).
This Fascist neo-Gestapo, answerable to no judicial authority, and
consisting largely of brutal, sadistic morons, rapidly established
itself as the most terrifying body in Rome. It set up its head-
quarters in a block of flats, and within a week all the other tenants,
unable to stand the screams of the victims of its 'interrogations, 5
quit the building.
I realized that the sudden increase in the tempo of enemy
activity was not aimed at the capture of Allied escapers, but at
the destruction of the Italian and other subversive movements,
which were a growing threat to German rule, but we had so much
in common with their organizations, and, indeed, overlapped at
so many points, that a search for one was only too likely to un-
earth the secrets of the other.
The number of visits made by our agents to the billets and to
the Vatican was therefore reduced to the minimum, and orders
went out to all 'cells' for detailed evacuation drill, under which
the escapers were, in the event of any large-scale scare, to try
to make their way to the age-old catacombs of Rome. We
176 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
gave them directions for entering and equally important not
getting lost in the fabulous complex of subterranean tunnels, in
which, I knew, a whole army could be hidden if necessary;
the catacombs had served the early Christians well enough
against the heathen Romans centuries before, and now offered
similar protection to the Allied men against an enemy no less
Conditions for our work became more and more difficult as
the Germans and Fascists started rounding up all males between
the ages of fifteen and seventy for forced labour, ostensibly to
prepare earthwork defences north of Rome, but more probably,
I thought, to reduce the number of potential enemies in the city,
and to move any who might be subversive agents as far away as
possible from the front line. The priests were still relatively safe
from seizure, but few others could walk safely on the streets unless
in possession of formidable documents, and during the long hours
of curfew searches and round-ups by the S.S. and the Fascists
became more and more frequent.
Unexpectedly, just as the Via Rasella bombshell had been a
boomerang against the Roman underground, even more un-
expectedly the Ardeatine massacre proved a boomerang for the
Germans. The Fascist neo-Gestapo, who went about their bestial
business with sadistic satisfaction, were by no means typical of
their race : for the most part the cold, calculated cruelty of the
Germans, which the Fascists aped, was something wholly foreign
to the passionate, volatile, yet essentially warm-hearted Italian
nature. As a people, the Italians never cared much for the Ger-
mans; during the occupation of Rome they learned to dislike them
actively, and after the Ardeatine massacre their dislike turned to
a glowing, loathing hatred. Many Italians who had found it ex-
pedient to collaborate, now turned their backs on the Germans,
and many more who had barely tolerated them now sought means
of working against them. Outside the Fascist gang there were few
Italians left who looked upon the expected Allied entry into Rome
as merely the substitution of one occupying force by another. It
was a hoped-for, prayed-for day, which would be a day of libera-
In this atmosphere the Rome Organization found itself many
new and valuable helpers men and women who cared nothing
about the small sums of money we distributed or the black-market
supplies that we could organize, but wanted only to do some-
thing active against the hated Germans.
Despite the value of this extra help, however, the most valuable
assistance that came my way was a strictly commercial proposi-
tion, and possibly the best bit of business the Rome Organization
"Know the Questura?" asked John May one day, his eyes
creased by an expansive grin.
"Of course though I've no wish to make close acquaintance
with it," I replied. "You mean the headquarters of the S.S. and
the Fascist Carabinieri?"
"How would you like to get hold of their routine orders when
they come out?" he asked. "I think I've found a way of laying
hands on those orders."
"Now, John," I expostulated, "I'd be the first to agree that
you're a bloody marvel, but you arc now talking through your
John May explained. "I'm in touch with a chap name of
Giuseppe who says he's got a pal working in some sort of clerical
capacity in the Questura. Betwen them they're prepared to float
an extra copy of the gen from the routine orders in our direction.
They will, of course, expect rather more than thanks."
"A thousand lire a time."
We discussed the idea, but the only thing holding me back was
that I was too old to believe in fairies any more. My most op-
timistic plans had never contemplated a sight of the Questura's
routine orders, but John May and I hammered out details of a
roundabout route for reports to reach us with the minimum risk
to our informant and ourselves. I had little hope of getting any-
thing at all, let alone something useful, but when a report ap-
peared a couple of days later my surprise at receiving a return
for my money soon gave way to astonishment and delight at its
contents : for this was indeed a full and detailed transcript of
the S.S. and Fascist orders most affecting us in the Rome Or-
ganization. In addition to information about the general activities
of the security forces, the report also listed the areas in Rome
on which the authorities, with their customary insistence on com-
mitting all plans to paper, intended to make 'surprise raids' within
the next two or three nights.
178 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
"This is terrific," I enthused to John May. "If your boys are
going to produce this sort of thing they're underpaid."
I told him that if his little friends had wanted to take us for a
ride they wouldn't have filled their first report with stuff that
could manifestly be proved to be true or false within a few hours.
Anyway, I cleared the billets in the danger areas, knowing that
we should soon find out where the Questura gang had been pay-
ing their social calls.
Everything worked out as the report had forecast, and it was
clear that the organization had never made a better financial in-
vestment. We now had an inside contact with the very people
who were searching for, and rounding up, escaped prisoners. It
did not, of course, give us anything like complete protection, for
the Gestapo were likely to turn up anywhere at any time, and the
Questura orders only covered routine raids. They did not refer
to checks resulting from a denunciation or information. But it
was a tremendous stride forward in security, and the reports
regularly received thereafter frequently enabled us to prevent
recaptures and arrests by evacuating escapers from danger
These evacuations called for some fast thinking, since the
routine orders and detailed raids scheduled for the same evening
were not published until midday. Then it took time to cover the
devious route from the Questura to the British Legation, and the
vital information did not reach me until quite late in the after-
noon. Orders for raids usually related to a fairly broad area, and
I had to rush through our card-indexes and maps to find out if
any of our 'cells' were in danger, for with the increasing number
of new billets, and the sheer number in occupation in the city,
there was too much detail to be committed to memory. If billets
were found to be in danger areas there still remained the physical
task of warning the occupants and arranging evacuations. This
was complicated by the security precaution that any one mes-
senger should know of no more than a handful of 'cells.' Con-
sequently, we sometimes found that to get warnings to four or
five billets quite close to each other, we had to trace and dispatch
as many messengers.
Sometimes the messengers directly concerned could not be
contacted in time, but we never sent a neighbouring messenger
to take warnings to 'cells* which were not in his own group. Only
four people knew the location of all the billets: Monsignor
O'Flaherty, Lieutenant Simpson, Captain Byrnes, and myself.
Even Lieutenant Furman, who had taken over half Simpson's
list since his return to Rome, did not know many of the 'cells'
which had been established while he was away. Of the four of us,
Byrnes and I were confined within the walls of the Vatican, and
the monsignor could not venture beyond its immediate surround-
ings without risk of instant arrest. So, for the second time, the
quiet, methodical Simpson found himself the key outside-man
of the organization. Whenever the contact-man for a threatened
billet could not be traced at short notice it was Lieutenant Simp-
son who had to take the warning, and one of the minor mysteries
of the war or even minor miracles was how, when Rome
swarmed as never before with German soldiers and security forces,
Simpson managed to travel incessantly about the city without ever
being stopped and questioned.
Everything had to be done at the double, for it was now virtu-
ally impossible to deliver messages or move escapers once the early
curfew clamped at half past five, and public transport services
had largely broken down. Even where in existence, they were sub-
ject to constant scrutiny by the Germans, so some of our priests
were now regularly covering eight or nine miles on foot in a day,
during their routine calls on billets.
Nevertheless, whatever the difficulties of making practical use
of Giuseppe's reports, it was a tremendous advantage to be able
to circulate warnings at all, and in time we had the whole com-
plicated business of translation, pinpointing affected billets,
selecting messengers and briefing them, boiled down to a high-
Apart from details of official orders, Giuseppe began to include
background information, and I realized from repeated references
to "anonymous" denouncements, that a good many of the arrests
which had been put down to bad luck in routine checks
might, in fact, have been due to denunciation. For example, he
As a result of several denunciations, the Via Merulana is being
closely watched these days, since British and American ex-
prisoners are reported to be hidden there. Houses will shortly be
l8o THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
On another occasion he wrote :
A denouncement has arrived declaring that a coffee-house
keeper has an English ex-prisoner under an assumed Italian name,
who he pretends is his helper. A search by the Republican Fascists
And later :
Another denouncement reports that a baker in the San Giovanni
district is hiding some British and Badoglian soldiers in a walled-
It was from Giuseppe that I confirmed a suspicion that the
Germans were now sending out agents dressed as priests, who got
in touch with British escapers, and offered help, undertaking to
conduct them to secure hiding-places a promise which, looked
at in one light, they often fulfilled all too thoroughly.
Giuseppe also reported that every access to the San Roberto
Bdlarmino Church, which was about a mile north of the ancient
city wall, on the far side of the Rome Zoo, was being watched, as
the Germans suspected that the priests were giving money and
hospitality to escaped prisoners-of-war. This was particularly
disconcerting, for the prospects were certainly poorer if the Ges-
tapo net was beginning to tighten round Monsignor O'Flaherty's
priests; I urged him to warn all his helpers to be on their guard,
and, since he disliked others taking risks that he cheerfully took
himself, the warning was passed on.
Giuseppe's reports caused me great concern, because the de-
tails given in denunciation were so accurate, but when they
revealed at last the source of the betrayal it was only confirmation
of what I already knew.
Pale and tight-lipped, the Free French leader, De Vial, had
told me, "That bastard, Perfetti, has gone over to the Boche."
It was not really surprising. I had never liked the greasy Pas-
qualino Perfetti, who wore priest's clothing though he was not a
priest, and who had been my first contact in Rome, so I had
allowed him to slip gradually out of the organization, although
he had continued, for a remuneration, to find billets for the
French. Nevertheless, the news was alarming, for Perfetti had
been an important link in the monsignor's original organization,
and he knew the location of too many of our present billets, as
well as those occupied by French escapers.
"We knew Perfetti had been arrested/' De Vial continued, "but
we were not too worried. We thought it was all routine. Then
we heard that he was about again, limping heavily, and obviously
badly battered about the head and face. And, mon Dieu, he was
not alone. He was with the Gestapo. Sometimes in a car, some-
times on foot, he was guiding them from place to place. We lost
a dozen billets before we could do anything, and a lot of our
men have been taken in by that Fascist gang, and badly beaten
"How do you know ?"
"One of them got away Captain Martin. He climbed down
a drainpipe from four floors up, and ran through Rome with his
face and clothes covered with blood. From him, we learned about
Thus it was confirmation rather than information when
Giuseppe's next report told me :
I have been informed that one Pasqualino Perfetti had been
collaborating with the Fascists and German police. He helps them
in their searches for ex-prisoners. Before, Pasqualino Perfetti has
helped or feigned to assist ex-prisoners-of-war. It has been con-
firmed that he has given much information.
By this time I had rushed urgent warnings to the billeting
officers, and a sort of general post had begun among the under-
ground Allies in Rome, but despite our speed, the bogus priest's
wholesale denunciation moved faster, and half a dozen escapers
and their c padrones' were arrested. Giuseppe's reports began to lag
behind developements, filling in details of known disasters, rather
than providing warnings, but they were still valuable. For
The German police have arrested the lawyer, Eramo, who had
very generously helped ex-prisoners and Badoglian soldiers [he
wrote]. He is imprisoned in die prison of the Via Tasso. It appears
that he was betrayed by Don Pasqualino Perfetti, who had been
in contact with Eramo over the financing of the above-mentioned
soldiers. Arrested himself some time ago, Perfetti has given the
addresses of all those in hiding, accompanying the German police
in their searches. Without a doubt, Perfetti now works for the
l8? THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Perfetti's perfidy had gone beyond the bounds of an under-
standable breakdown under torture. From Captain Martin and
other sources, the French learned that Perfetti not merely
guided the Germans from house to house, but at each gave the
secret signal on the bell, and held the door open while the Ger-
mans burst in, so that there was no hope of escape for the ex-
I was hoping that we had been able to clear most of the billets
known to Perfetti from earlier days, but the scope of his denuncia-
tions became evident when Lieutenant Furman, after a frantic
couple of days, reported on March 26 :
Du Toit : I enclose this man's identity card. Du Toit was Pas-
qualino's escaper; he was picked up with Ireland, who had only
been at the billet a few days. Matthews must be considered taken;
he went away from his billet and hasn't returned. Flynn and
Wynn have been taken. Macdougal, I hear, has been taken; one
of Pasqualino's, I believe.
Perfetti's treachery caused us grievous losses. By the end of
March twenty-one escapers had been recaptured, and more than
a dozen Italian helpers arrested. We tightened up on security in
every possible direction, and to reduce the amount of incriminat-
ing paper floating around Rome, I ordered that no further re-
ceipts should be collected from people to whom money was
given. Sir D'Arcy Osborne gave authority for the reports written
by Lieutenants Simpson and Furman, in the comparative safety
of Monsignor 'Flaherty's office, to be accepted as sufficient
acknowledgment for the vast amount of British Government cash
now passing through our hands.
Yet, even at a time of high drama, it was impossible to forget
the trivial problems of my work, as "the pay bloke" to use the
term given me by Simpson. While reporting on the arrest of Du
Toit and Ireland, Lieutenant Furman also pointed out :
The elderly lady who looked after them wants to make some
claim in respect of Du Toit I don't think she really expects to
get all she has put down, but I might mention that Du Toit
was wearing a watch of her husband's, and also she bought
an accordion for 5000 lire, which Du Toit said he would pay
I had financial troubles enough, without trying to extract pay-
ment for a wrist-watch and an accordion from the British Govern-
ment, but I had already foreseen this sort of development, and
was devoting most of my spare moments to planning the establish-
ment of some sort of commission, which, after the Allied entry
into Rome, would be able to sift and settle the claims of aU
Italians who had suffered loss through their help to the organiza-
tion. So I told Furman :
I suggest you give her a couple of thousand lire, and tell her
that we have got all her details for the commission, which will
investigate and deal with all claims. But, anyway, I should think
she would be able to get a good price for the accordion. . . .
As March turned to April, it seemed that the crisis had passed.
The cold blue of the sky took on a gentler, golden mantle, setting
aglow the great ruined temples, sending melted snow coursing
under the seventeen Tiber bridges, and clothing the boughs and
branches beyond my windows with bud and blossom. Nowhere in
the world could have been more beautiful than Rome in the spring
of that year, and as I looked out from the safety of my comfortable
prison, I felt a new hope. Better weather would surely hasten the
liberation, and now that the leak which had brought such tragic
results had been stopped, I hoped to preserve the freedom of those
anticipating reunion with their comrades.
I started to breathe easily again but out in the beautiful city
Lieutenant John Furman was aghast. He had been discussing Per-
f etti's perfidy with his young assistant, Gino Giuliani, the son of
his 'padrone,' and quite casually, as though it were of no import-
ance, the youth mentioned that he knew the betrayer. Furman
elicited that Perf etti also knew Gino was helping us, and that at
least one of the billets which Gino had provided for Furman's
escapers had been passed on to him by Perf etti.
Lieutenant Furman acted promptly, evacuating the billet which
was known to be in danger, and moving his own quarters to his
reserve billet, in the home of a widowed countess. He advised his
'padrone,' Romeo Giuliani, to take his family away, but the little
clerk would not hear of moving, although Gino agreed to go and
stay with his young friend, Memo, who also had occasionally
helped in the finding of billets.
When nothing happened in three or four days Furman decided
184 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
that the danger had passed, and returned to the Giulianis' home
on April 5. The Fascists struck during the night of April 7, but,
by pure chance, Furman was not there. He was attending a birth-
day party, and because of the curfew the convention had de-
veloped that such parties should last all night. The spare bed
on which Gino slept whenever Furman was in the house had
been dismantled and packed away, and there was no obvious
sign of the tenancy of an escaped prisoner-of-war, but the
Fascists were equipped with a detailed denunciation by Perfetti,
and took away both Gino and his father, Romeo. After maintain-
ing his ignorance of anything to do with British escapers all
through a night-long interrogation, Romeo was released, but his
son was held.
The organization knew nothing of this new blow until Furman
returned to his billet next day, to find it occupied only by tearful,
haggard women, for Romeo had gone back to the Fascist head-
quarters on his own, to find out what had happened to his son.
Furman urged the remainder of the family to vacate their home
at once, but again they refused to move.
He rushed off to meet Joe Pollak, who was enjoying a brief
spell of relatively sound health, and together they drew up a list
of all the billets known to Gino, and worked out a plan for the
warning of all the families involved. Several were on the tele-
phone, and they decided to contact these before setting off to
call on the others, but in no single case could they get a reply.
Hearts sinking, they realized that they were already too late. Gino
Abandoning their plan of separating to visit all the billets,
they decided to go together to one for a check. The idea behind
this dangerous but utterly unselfish plan was that if one of them
walked into a trap the other would be able to get away, and report
to headquarters. They made their way by tram to a billet occupied
by Privates Groundsdl and Allen, where, while Pollak waited
below, Furman went upstairs, and gave the secret ring on the
doorbell. The face of the girl who answered the door was enough
to tell him that here, also, he was too late. She told him that the
Fascists had burst in without warning the previous night, and had
taken away the two escapers and her father. She and her mother
had watched the Fascists kick the three men down the long stair-
Furman and Pollak became increasingly depressed as their in-
vestigations continued, for of all the escapers known to Gino, they
could find only two still safe, and these they moved at once to
another billet. Furman, now without a home of his own, remem-
bered with a sudden shock that although he had not given the
address of his emergency billet to Gino, he had told him the tele-
phone number. He rushed to the house to warn the countess and
her two daughters that they must leave Rome at once, at least for
a few days.
Lieutenant Simpson, meanwhile, unaware of the latest disaster,
had gone to the basement flat, which had been used for the past
few weeks as the principal clearing-house, and to which Mon-
signor O'Flaherty sent all new arrivals. He found that the Fas-
cists had already called and dragged the 'padrone 9 away, but the
five British escapers using the billet were still there. In the few
moments before he opened the door, in answer to the harsh and
unmistakable Fascist summons, the Italian (Paolino) had the
presence of mind to bundle the five into a cellar, and push his bed
over the trap-door entrance. The Fascists searched the flat with-
out finding any trace of escapers or the hastily concealed trap-
door, but they took Paolino. Since they were armed with detailed
denunciations, they no longer needed material evidence. Simpson
immediately moved the five escapers to other billets, and once
again we were left without a clearing-house.
I had sent out warnings throughout the organization as soon as
Perfetti started out on his long trail of treachery, but the Gino
development caught me off balance : I did not know what he
knew about the organization, although I had a suspicion that we
should have to write off a good proportion of the billets for which
Furman was responsible. Furman's first written report on April 1 1,
after a hectic period in which there was time only for brief verbal
messages, confirmed my foreboding.
The situation is now a little clearer [he wrote], but I'm afraid
the clearer it gets, the blacker. Nearly all my lads have been taken,
so it is quite clear that Gino spilled the beans. All were taken on
Saturday between i A.M. and 5 A.M.
Groundsell and Allen: taken together with the padrone,' Car-
dinali. I went to the house yesterday, and saw the daughters, and
left them 2000 lire.
McBride and Bensley: I haven't been to the house, but have
l86 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
phoned constantly, with never a reply, so it is fairly conclusive.
It would seem that Renato Peoletti and his mother have both been
De Lisle and Gardner: I haven't been there, but the Cardinalis'
(whose friends they are) told me the worst. I don't know which
members of the family have been taken. Incidentally, there were
also two Jews in hiding there, so I suppose they have been taken.
Doug. Bennett: He must have been taken, as, again, I get no
reply on the phone. That also means Signora Ingoramo and her
Memo: He also was taken on Saturday night, but I learn has
now been released; he thinks, however, that he is being tailed.
I shall try to make contact with him if it can be done safely.
Countess Morosini: I stayed a few nights in this lady's house,
and Gino knew the phone number. Accordingly, I advised her to
move, together with her two daughters, and in view of their ex-
penses thus entailed, I left 2000 lire with them. If you think this
is not justifiable I'll pay it myself, but it is on our account that
they're having to move.
Hudd and Conlon> who were known to Gino, fortunately are
safe, and I've shifted them. It is quite right that as soon as some
one is taken it is necessary to assume that everything he knows
is also known to the enemy. . . .
This depressing list was by no means complete, and in his next
report Furman told me that an underground agent named
Zachan, with whom he had an appointment at the business
premises of an Italian 'padrone/ had been arrested while in posses-
sion of a pistol.
Neither Z. nor his 'padrone* was there [wrote Furman, report-
ing on his appointment], but the 'padrone's' wife was, and this is
the story I had from her :
At about i A.M. four Guardia Republicans came to the house,
and gave the proper signal. They took away the 'padrone' and Z.,
who was armed.
The 'padrone's' wife has had an interview with her husband
at the Regina Coeli. He had a black eye, and was bruised about
the head and face. He told her that Gino had been badly beaten
up, and that his head was swollen like a pumpkin; also that Per-
fetti had been badly beaten up about the body. Gino, he said,
was now also at the Regina Coeli, and no longer at Via Principe
(the Fascist neo-Gestapo headquarters). He confirmed that they
seem to know everything about everything, and said they are
particularly anxious to locate me : apparently all the 'padrones,'
who have been taken have been asked where the English lieutenant
who used to visit them is to be found.
Memo, Gino's friend, who also worked for me, has been re-
leased without apparently being beaten up; he visited this lady
at her house, and told her that wherever he went he had two
Fascists with him. It appears that they threatened him with death
unless he led them to other prisoners and, it would seem, par-
ticularly to me. However, he knows no other prisoners, so far as
as I am aware, and I don't believe that he would give me away
even if he saw me in the street. But I don't propose to take any
chances. If I see him about I shall promptly put on a gallop in
the opposite direction.
I gave the lady 2000 lire, for which she was very grateful. I
think it is the least we can do.
Hudd and Conlon, the only two of his escapers that Furman
had been able to save, were not at liberty for long : they and their
new 'padrone' were arrested within a few days.
"What do you put it down to?" I asked. "One of the Pas-
But Furman replied that he thought it a common case of de-
Three more escapers were taken in quick succession, and this
time they were all uncomfortably close to Mrs Chevalier's
I really am worried about her place [I warned Furman and
Simpson]. That son of hers is such a damned chatterbox : he tells
them practically everything at the Swiss, and we know there are
at least two people there who get paid on results, by the Huns.
Both of you are to keep away as much as possible from her
Unfortunately, Lieutenant Simpson was destined never to re-
ceive this message. At this time he was playing with the idea of
taking advantage of the improved weather by making an attempt
to rejoin our forces. He had asked for permission to join in a
scheme with others to get away by boat from the west coast.
I had to reply, somewhat discouragingly, that none of the
many T>oats trips* had succeeded from the west coast.
1 88 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
The last [I wrote], cost the French nine men and 80,000 lire
(the men being in gaol). However, I am naturally interested in
any show for getting the chaps back, so although I should be
sorry to lose you, of course you may go in the event of the proposi-
tion sounding reasonable, and we shall provide the cash for you.
But I warned him that Germans posing as French patriots had
been infiltrated into many escapes by boat, and reports from the
north showed that many so-called boating-parties were merely a
Fascist ruse to collect as many prisoners-of-war as possible. How-
ever, there had been several successful evacuations on the Adriatic
These warnings, too, were never to reach Bill Simpson, for
before the ink of my signature had dried, the calm, methodical
lieutenant, who had worked on undismayed through eighteen
weeks of turmoil, suddenly vanished.
Thrust and Parry
JOLTED by a series of straight lefts, a boxer can be forgiven
if he raises his guard against another, and then finds himself
caught by an unexpected right uppercut.
The Rome Organization was on the defensive, and concentrat-
ing on fending off more blows, following the Perfetti and Gino
revelations. I felt that in the haze of sudden raids Lieutenant
Furman had become a marked man, since his habits and descrip-
tion must have been well known to the Fascists. So I decided that
for the time being he would have to be taken out of action, and
set about making arrangements for him to be hidden in a
seminary, which, to all intents and purposes, would be as safe as
the Vatican itself. But long before the plans were complete, other
events decreed that Furman must remain on active service.
I was also worried that the Perfetti poison would spread in
other directions, for although the Fascists had not yet laid hands
on any of the priests, Perfetti knew enough for complaints to be
passed through to the ecclesiastical authorities. Sure enough, two
of our most stalwart assistants, the Maltese Father Borg ("Grobb")
and the Irish Father Madden ("Edmund"), were shortly after-
wards confined by their superiors to their religious houses. With
Monsignor O'Flaherty virtually restricted to the Vatican,
Brother Robert Pace ("Whitebows") out of the game, and Joe
Pollak limited to occasional assistance because of his health, our
outside staff was drastically reduced, just at a time when more
movements than ever were taking place. The burden on the few
who remained was thus increased enormously, and Lieutenant
Simpson was carrying his full share.
Then on April 18, the only billeting officer to have evaded re-
capture during the winter disappeared. It was a body blow.
Simpson had been of such vital importance to the organization
that, in Furman's absence, I had ordered him never to sleep in
the same billet on successive nights. It is true that after Furman's
reappearance Simpson made his 'permanent' home in the per-
fumed apartment of the film actress, Flora Volpini, but he had
I go THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
continued to move around a good deal, for he knew the position
of every 'cell,' and was never at a loss for a bed.
On April 18 he was spending the night with an American
friend, Lieutenant E. Dukate, who was billeted with two Italian
black-market operators. In the middle of the night the flat was
raided by S.S. men, which was fairly unusual at a time when
most of the attacks against us were launched by the hated Fascist
neo-Gestapo, but it was not black-marketeere they were after
they wanted Simpson and Dukate only.
Things go from bad to worse [reported Lieutenant Furman].
Now Bill is in the bag. I shall try to get Bill's prisoners looked
after, with the aid of "Rinso," but I want a complete list of
Simpson, the biggest fish the enemy had yet hooked out of the
Rome Organization, simply disappeared. We had excellent con-
tacts in so many places that normally we were quickly able to
ascertain the whereabouts of recaptured escapers, but in this case
we drew a long succession of blanks. Through our underground
information lines we sent inquiries to the civil police and the
Questura; at a less clandestine level the Swiss asked questions on
our behalf, and the actress, Flora Volpini, herself made a direct
approach to the Italian governor of the Regina Coeli, who was
known to her. From all directions came the same response no
one had heard of Lieutenant Simpson. We knew that as he had
not been taken by the Fascist gang, he would not be in the torture
centre in Via Principe Amedeo, but the alternative was scarcely
less encouraging, for if he was in the Via Tasso headquarters of
the Gestapo he would be lucky to emerge alive.
While investigations continued, the ordinary work of the or-
ganization had to go on, and Lieutenant Furman himself decided
to remain in action, and postpone what he called "coming in-
I was not happy about his being out and about in Rome, though
I understood and accepted his decision. But I tried to dissuade
him from following Simpson's earlier system of sleeping in dif-
ferent billets every night, chiefly because I did not want him to
venture on to the streets at all unless absolutely necessary, and
also because I wanted to know where he could be found if he
had to be moved 'inside' at short notice.
THRUST AND PARRY igi
For the moment I will stay put, doing only necessary work, and
otherwise lying low [replied Furman]. When you think the time
is ripe for me to go inside you will be able to let me know, but I
am still not sure that the time is ripe with "Grobb" and "Ed-
mund" out of action, in addition to Bill and "Whitebows," do you
think I can be spared?
The question was rhetorical, for Furman had already decided
the answer for himself : he could not be spared. He dyed his hair
jet black, changed the position of his parting, and shaved off his
These alterations in appearance, which turned him into a
typical Italian, were speeded after an alarming encounter. He re-
ported to me :
To-day I went back to my old billet, and to my horror met
Memo there the friend of Gino, who was released after a couple
of days' captivity. He was as alarmed to see me as I was to see
him. He told me he was released on condition that he would look
for me, and he had two guards with him for a couple of days,
but they seem to have disappeared now. He thinks that Gino will
be released within the next couple of days, also on condition that
he helps look for me (Gino has already had most of his teeth
knocked out or broken). He tells me that they have my descrip-
tion down to the very last detail of my clothing which, incident-
ally, I have now changed and also know a number of places
which I frequent, and are watching them. He says, too, that the
Fascists have told him I am a spy, and they will shoot me when
they catch me. I have taken off my moustache, and am going to
dye my hair, so don't be surprised when next you see me.
Furman was now staying at the flat which he had arranged
to be taken over by an Italian woman, Luciana Zoboli, and he
had another scare when she asked him if she could bring in two
young Italians who needed refuge. One was a doctor who had
helped Allied escapers in the country north of Rome, serving as
our contact with a group of twenty, but the other man was wear-
ing the uniform of an officer in the Republican Guard. Luciana
hastened to explain : the visitor had been an officer in the regular
Italian army, and had been forced into joining the Republican
guard, but once he had moved his family, against whom he had
feared reprisals, to a place of safety, he deserted, and went into
1 92 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
The faith that Furman had shown in our Italian friend, Renzo
Lucidi, when he assured me that between them they would look
after Lieutenant Simpson's billets, was not misplaced, Lucidi, who
had helped the organization from the start, and had been Simp-
son's principal assistant, now dropped all his business commit-
ments, and devoted his full time to our work. He and Furman
together managed to deal with Simpson's long list of billets, and
whenever I had occasion to flash a warning to Furman that it
was specially dangerous for him to be seen about the streets,
Renzo's gallant French-born wife, Adrienne, went out, and de-
livered the money and supplies to escapers.
My warnings were, unfortunately, becoming ever more
frequent, for the hatred of Germans which had fermented among
the population of Rome (overt and underground equally), was
now erupting in a rash of minor explosions, assassinations, and
other unfriendly acts all over the city. Every bomb and every
bullet resulted in a sudden surge of activity by the inflated security
forces, and the harbouring of prisoners became so hazardous that
a few Italian families broke under the strain, and begged us to
remove the men in their care. We did so, of course, though it
meant a shuffle of escapers at a time when everybody would have
been better lying low, and when billet-space was exceedingly hard
I suppose the narrowest escape of this period was that of an
Italian named Giovanni, who had taken into his home the five
men who had been evacuated from Mrs Chevalier's flat. All five
were at home when the Fascists hammered at Giovanni's door.
There was no alternative exit, but he bundled them through the
French window, on to the tiny balcony outside the living-room,
and drew the curtains across,
He then admitted the impatient Fascists, who fanned out
through the flat, searched, and found nothing incriminating
probably no new experience for them at a time when everybody
was denouncing everybody else but just as they were leaving,
their sergeant pointed to the curtained French window, and de-
manded," What's through there?"
"Only a balcony," said the sweating Giovanni, and offered
him a drink.
The Fascist thanked him, and said he would like one very much
af ter he had made a routine check of the balcony. Giovanni,
THRUST AND PARRY 193
all hope gone, waited for the inevitable as the sergeant strode
to the window, swept back the curtains, and stepped out on the
balcony. Utter stillness followed.
"Well, where's the drink you promised?" asked the sergeant,
striding briskly back into the room. In a daze Giovanni handed
him the whole bottle.
After the Fascists had gone, Giovanni crossed himself, wiped
away the sweat dripping from his chin, ventured on to the empty
balcony, and peered down at the bare flagstones below. Then
he heard a whisper, and from the balcony above a ladder slipped
down; one by one, five Allied escapers made a hair-raising descent
high above the streets of Rome, and their Italian 'padrone'
realized that he owed his life and their freedom to his habit of
keeping his household ladder on the balcony.
About this time there returned to Rome, after a brief and
abortive attempt to reach the Allied lines at Anzio, an escaper
who had experienced one of the closest shaves of all Flight-
Lieutenant E. Garrard-Cole. He had been in Rome for some
months, and had helped Renzo Lucidi delivering food, although
he did not then know of the existence of the organization. Our
security system was such that officers occasionally helped in this
way under the impression that they were assisting in a small
ad hoc arrangement to aid British escapers, operated by their
'padrone 9 and a few Italian friends.
Garrard-Cole, a big man, who had provided, like a number of
others, rather a problem for our wardrobe department, was riding
on a tram, when he noticed to his discomfiture that he had
attracted the attention of two uniformed Germans. Deciding not
to press his luck, he got off, but they disembarked too, and fol-
lowed him, keeping about twenty yards behind, and stopping
whenever he stopped. He set off more briskly, but the Germans
overtook him, one on each side, and demanded to see his identity
card. He produced the false documents with which he had been
supplied, and the Germans gave him some orders of which he
clearly understood only two words, <c Via Tasso." He had no
alternative but to walk with them, but equally he had no inten-
tion of accompanying them all the way to the Gestapo head-
Noting that they were armed only with pistols fastened in black
holsters at their waists, and that neither looked particularly bright,
194 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
the tall flight-lieutenant suddenly stuck out his long leg. The Ger-
man on his right stumbled, and as he fell forward, Garrard-Cole
helped him on the way with a mighty blow on the back of the
neck, and hared off down the street. A bullet from the other
German's pistol whistled past his ear as he plunged round the
He dived into a familiar block of flats, hid behind the door
as the angry Germans clattered past, and then ran up the stairs
to the home of Renzo Lucidi. Shortly afterwards Germans
swarmed into the area, but Renzo had foreseen this, and Garrard-
Cole was safely, if uncomfortably, squashed into the small cover-
ing on the roof, which housed the mechanism of the lift, thought-
fully put out of action by Renzo. Given a change of raincoat and
hat, Garrard-Cole eventually emerged from the building, and
made his way past two or three groups of Germans searching for
him. He was hand in hand with the Lucidis* small son, Maurice,
who chattered continuously in Italian to his "father" all the way
It wsis an example of something we had always believed : that
if Germans were told to look for a tall man in a light raincoat
and a dark hat, they would never think of stopping a tall man in
a dark raincoat and a light hat. I mused that if the enemy could
be confused by a small change of clothing, then the alterations in
Lieutenant Furman's appearance should destroy the scent utterly.
April brought a shower of blows on the Rome Organization,
and one of the heaviest was not an arrest but nevertheless meant
the end of the tremendous help we had received from Captain
Trippi of the Swiss Legation. From the start, he had directed to
us all the new arrivals who turned up in Rome knowing nothing
of the organization, but aware that Switzerland was Britain's pro-
tecting power. Captain Trippi had also distributed food and
clothing to escapers who called at his legation, had issued Red
Cross parcels to ex-prisoners billeted in Rome, and, above all,
had been largely responsible for the distribution of supplies to
messengers on behalf of groups in the country areas.
Therefore I was shocked to learn from Sir D'Arcy Osborne
that the Swiss had indicated that they could no longer provide
assistance to cx-prisoners-of-war or anybody else liable for arrest.
This unwelcome decision resulted from a "friendly talk" between
the Swiss Minister and the German Ambassador.
THRUST AND PARRY 195
The latter had explained that the German military authorities
were aware that the Swiss were aiding escaped British prisoners-
of-war. If it continued they might be forced to arrest the member
of the Swiss Legation most implicated. In the face of this warn-
ing, and of the threat of arrest of a member of the legation staff,
the Swiss Minister had decided that these activities must cease.
The German Ambassador, who was very friendly throughout
the talk, observed that, after all, it was unnecessary for the Swiss
to do this job, since it was notorious that the British Legation to
the Holy See financed British prisoners-of-war in Rome on so
generous a scale that British officers were often to be seen lunch-
ing luxuriously at expensive restaurants !
The luxurious lunches, as the Minister and I both knew, were
possible only for those officers who had made some arrangement
with Italians for cashing their own money, but whether or not
that cynical German barb struck home, the principal result was
still the same : the Swiss Legation was now out of bounds.
This meant that escapers in Rome could no longer collect Red
Cross parcels, and orders were circulated to all billets immedi-
ately, but the Germans acted even more promptly. Three escapers
were arrested at the entrance to the Swiss Legation before they
received the warning that the place which they had come to look
upon almost as their village-store was now under German ob-
The loss of Captain Trippi's assistance meant that much of the
supply line to the country groups now had to be directed through
Lieutenant Furman, who was already carrying out an immense
task. Noting his first reports on money sent to the country, I
grinned to myself. This was new territory for Furman, and he
was unaware that in our organization the "wide boys" were in
the country rather than the city.
John [I wrote], the country boys are up to all the tricks. Some
are : giving false names and numbers; saying there are four men in
one place when there are two; Italians collecting the money, and
handing over only limited amounts to the ex-prisoners, and doing
absolutely anything to get extra money often the chaps never
give a penny to their "padrones/ and just spend the money on
drink. Therefore, as a general policy, we usually give for twos
and threes about 1000 lire per head to begin with, and for larger
groups (say twenty chaps) about 10,000 lire, until we have got a
ig6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
line on the fellows. When we have checked up contacts and got
receipts, and the details of the men appear to be O.K., we send
about 2000 lire per man per month. The snag is that the contacts
are up to all the games, and collect from as many places as pos-
sible before going back to the country. Quite natural, but we pay
out on names only.
It was necessary, also, to beware of stool-pigeons. In the country
the Germans were up to all sorts of tricks they even employed
women to trace the source of cash, and used men dressed as
"poor worn-out ex-prisoners-of-war!" They had all the answers,
including army pay-books, numbers of camps, and so on. So I
wrote, "Do be careful and move about as little as possible/'
The problems of cscapers who turned most of their subsistence
allowance into drink was always present. In Rome it led to rash
behaviour at a time when Italian lives were already too cheap;
in the country, where the risk to security was small, it usually
meant that Italian helpers were kept short of recompense, since
the allowance could not meet both subsistence and a generous
supply of vino.
Although I had to take stern action in severe cases, I tried to
remember that the men in hiding were leading lives of drab
monotony, unenlivened by the interest, which active helpers had,
of a worthwhile job to be done, so I sought to make the men
realize their responsibility to the Italians, rather than merely to
To one group of five men who had been partaking fairly freely
I wrote :
The one thing that an escaped prisoner-of-war must avoid is
drawing attention to himself, and his freedom depends on think-
ing and acting quickly. It is now several months since the Italian
armistice, and it seems probable that the Allied occupation will
soon take place. Yet the number of ex-prisoners-of-war recaptured
recently has been greater than at any other period. More than
ever now, our enemies are making strenuous efforts to recapture
as many ex-prisoners as they can, and more than ever now, the
only reasonable course is to lie low. Remember the risk is not only
personal, but will involve the people who have risked everything
in order to try and keep you from being recaptured. I realize
that you are not living under the happiest circumstances, but you
must apply a little self-discipline : you risk recapture others risk
much more. If, after reading this note and after careful thought,
THRUST AND PARRY
you feel incapable of carrying on the unnatural existence of living
indoors the whole time, then in fairness to others the only decent
thing is to push off again into the country. We will help you as
far as we can with money but, whatever you do, think first be-
fore you chuck away at the last moment all you've gone through
since you escaped.
Although life was both safer and cheaper in the country, I
knew, even in the security of my office in the Vatican, that the
escapers in the rural areas were leading a precarious existence.
I had good reason to realize this, for in April I received many dis-
turbing reports from the country of recaptures a and some of shoot-
There was little the organization could do for escapers who,
caught in civilian clothes at a time when the Germans were not
much concerned about the Geneva Convention, were promptly
sentenced to death, but we did at least manage, in one or two
cases, to get a last letter home from the doomed man. These
letters, written with paper and pencil supplied by a village priest,
who, if his action had been discovered, would undoubtedly have
faced the firing-squad with the ex-prisoners, were often stark in
One written on April 1 5 by a Glasgow boy read :
DEAR MOTHER AND FATHER AND FAMILY,
This is the last letter I will be able to write as I get shot to-
day. Dear family, I have laid down my life for my country and
everything that was dear to me. I hope this war will soon be over,
so that you will all have peace for ever. Your ever loving soldier-
son and brother,
A brief accompanying note just said :
Just a few words to tell you that your son, Willie, was shot
because he was caught and arrested in civilian clothes. I assure
you that he received the comfort of our religion, and died in peace.
THE REVEREND FATHER IL CAPPELLANO,
P. ANTONIO INTRECOALAGLI
The priest's note might have seemed stilted, and even a little
austere, but he had risked his own life to enable a doomed man
to give his family all he had left to give a word of farewell.
ig8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
I read such notes with an ache, yet while they were saddening,
they were inspiring too. They strengthened my determination that
the 3739 mcn now k *k c carc f the Rome Organization should
be kept out of German hands until they could be liberated to
fight once more against the cold inhumanity of the most bestial
enemy that ever faced the forces of Christianity and civilization.
It was, however, becoming difficult to fulfil that determination.
In a month eight escapers had been shot, and forty others re-
turned to prison camps, and more than twenty Italian helpers
had been arrested. Most of the recaptures had been due to de-
nunciations, but no fewer than sixteen escapers had been picked
up in the streets during routine checks, three of whom would
have evaded arrest if they had not been drinking.
Putting Lieutenant Colin Lesslie in the picture for although
his large group "up the hill" remained mercifully free from Fas-
cist attention, they sometimes felt they were out of touch with
what was going on I wrote :
We have had a very black time recently; eight chaps have
been shot in the country (some forty kilometres north of Rome),
Bill S. and over forty other chaps retaken; the Swiss have had
to dose down so far as ex-prisoners are concerned; and three of
"Golfs" friends have had to go into strict hiding. Most of the
denunciations have been due to a semi-padre; fortunately, he did
not know anything about your position although we are of the
opinion that they will not raid any places like yours. Added to
these black times, a lot of our boys have been going about con-
trary to orders, and some have been getting drunk. I think the
waiting is getting them down (but it is slowly getting us all down).
However, I am still full of optimism, personally, in spite of all.
There is definite evidence that the Huns have pulled out a hell
of a lot of their heavy stuff. I only hope that the recent activity
points to them pulling out too.
For all my expressed optimism, I knew that the odds against
us were mounting. Enemy thrusts were coming more quickly than
the organization could parry them, and all the time the number
of escapers on our books was increasing sharply, while the number
of helpers was falling drastically.
April added 300 names to the total strength of our under-
ground army, but for the first time the number in Rome fell
by thirty to 150. There were two reasons for this : firstly, many
THRUST AND PARRY IQ9
of our "Romans" had been recaptured; secondly, I had decided
that there must be no new biHetings in the city. This decision had
been forced by arithmetical common sense. Rome contained only
about a twentieth of our escapcrs, but absorbed a quarter of
our expenditure, and in the last four black weeks it had accounted
for three-quarters of our losses through recapture. Living in Rome
was thus both expensive and risky.
On April 23 I therefore issued a long general order through a
distribution list that would have made an administrative assistant
at the War Office boggle: "To Golf, Eyerish, John, Fanny,
Horace, Mr Bishop, Sandro, Spike, Emma, Dutchpa, Sailor,
After outlining the developments of the last few weeks, I told
Current propaganda in Rome is that the Allies will not arrive
before the Autumn. This is strong propaganda when coupled
with the food shortage and with the static condition of the bridge-
head and Cassino fronts. The Fascists and S.S. have been, during
the last four weeks, and still are, far more active in the rounding
up of Allied ex-prisoners than at any time since the Italian
armistice. These facts point to the following conclusions :
1. Fascist gangs, working in collaboration with the Gestapo,
are out to make a name for themselves by rounding up all ex-
prisoners in Rome.
2. The work of finding billets, paying 'padrones,' contacting
and supplying men, is more difficult than ever before.
3. The longer men remain cooped up indoors, the more
desperate becomes their attitude of mind, and, stimulated by a
drink or two, the more likely they are to take ill-advised action.
In view of the foregoing I regret to have to issue the following
instructions : No more ex-prisoners are to be billeted in Rome;
any arriving in the city will be given financial help, and advised
to return to the country. Ex-prisoners must on no account leave
their billets unless they receive warning of an imminent raid. The
practice of going from one billet to another to visit friends must
cease forthwith. If forced to make a run for it ex-prisoners must
leave Rome, and hide out in the country. Dashing to another
billet only compromises additional people. A lump sum of 6000
lire per man for the month of May will be given to you. This is
for maintenance for May, and should allow for some ready cash
hi an emergency. In some cases the lump sum may be paid
200 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
to the ex-prisoner; in other cases it will require to be paid in
instalments, as some of the boys would convert the cash into assets
of a more 'liquid' character.
As if we had not troubles enough, we suddenly lost the use of
the centre which had been our operational headquarters from
the very beginning of the organization. This followed further
complaints from the Germans, which caused the Vatican
authorities, without warning, to close all outside approaches to
the Collcgio Tcutonicum. Monsignor O'Flaherty's busy room, for
so long the hub of the organization, was now out of bounds, and
Lieutenant Furman and the other outside agents were completely
cut off from their headquarters.
For a little while there was no contact at all, until a tenuous
line of communication was established by the resourceful mon-
signor, who arranged to meet agents actually inside the great
basilica of St Peter's, to which he and they alike continued to
have access. This expedient, however, was fraught with danger,
for there were always people inside the church, and the tall mon-
signor was a familiar figure, whose meetings with others in such
a public place must have been observed. Such meetings also
meant considerable risk for the agent, and the passing of letters
or supplies of money was virtually impossible. I felt it could be
only a matter of time before this arrangement led to further
arrests, including the one I feared most of all that of Monsignor
It was the astonishing John May who finally managed to re-
store a link between headquarters and outside agents. He con-
trived, by means which he never fully disclosed, to persuade the
Swiss Guards to permit a few people, including Lieutenant Fur-
man, to visit their guardroom beside the gate. The Swiss agreed
that when these privileged visitors called they would contact the
British Legation on the internal telephone system. John May
could then go down to the guardroom the limit of movement
permitted to him and converse in relative privacy.
This arrangement meant that money could be handed out once
again, and that I could send messages to Furman, who, after
reading them, burnt them before leaving the guardroom. He,
in turn, was able to write reports to me while in the guardroom
waiting for John May. It meant, also, that Furman had to
THRUST AND PARRY 2OI
memorize all the instructions I sent him before leaving, and that
he had to commit to memory everything that he wanted to re-
port to me before arriving.
A damned nuisance, this present arrangement not being able
to get inside [he wrote in his first report, which covered half a
dozen Vatican forms, used by applicants for appointments with
priests and officials]. However, I hope it will soon sort itself out,
one way or another. I'm dashing off this note while I am waiting
for John to come. I am told I have half an hour to wait . . .
Despite his annoyance with the new system, Furman was in
a good mood, for the southern battle-front, after a long winter of
immobility, was livening up again, and rumours had drifted up
to Rome to dispel much of the apathy that had developed during
April. Funnan noted the changed atmosphere, and ended his
I have a feeling something is in the air. I can sense a curious
excitement abroad, as though big things are about to happen
everybody knows except me ! Anyway, I think they'll be here by
the end of May. What are the odds?
Funnan sent me more than just his greetings : despite all the
difficulties with which he was now faced, his message was accom-
panied by a bottle of genuine Scotch whisky.
It is absolutely wonderful [I replied], I enclose 2000 lire for the
bottle already sent : buy a drink with the balance for self and
Back came a prompt reply from the irrespressible Funnan :
The bottle was a present to cheer you up in your loneliness !
However, I will keep the 2000 lire and buy some more if I can
find it. Cheerio !
Security had now been tightened to such an extent that many
of the escapers billeted in Rome had no clear idea where their
money was coming from, and occasionally even our own leading
agents collided with each other in the deliberate fog of our security
Reporting the discovery of a South African corporal in Rome,
Furman told me:
202 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
I met this lad to-day. He hasn't yet had money for May, but
he expects 2000 lire to-morrow. The money apparently comes
from here, but is handled by several people before he gets it. Can
you check up on this ?
I knew the real contact to be "Mr Bishop," an Italian named
Giuseppe Gonzi, who distributed through other Italians, but there
seemed to be no useful purpose in passing on this information.
There was only one way to preserve maximum security and
simultaneously satisfy my billeting officer's curiosity I trans-
ferred the corporal to Lieutenant Furman's list.
In a later report Furman wrote :
To-day "Rinso" told me he had paid 4000 lire to an American
called Sergakis, who had received only 2000 from an Italian named
On this occasion strict security had cost us a tenner, for Ser-
gakis had received full allowance for the month, and I had a
receipt signed by the man himself.
Information about doubtful or difficult characters reached me
fairly frequently, and in the isolation of the Vatican I had to take
it all at face value, and circulate warnings accordingly, at the risk
of being excessively cautious.
On one occasion I wrote to Furman :
Sergeant B. has already received a full allowance for May, and
has now moved his billet against orders, and has said he will tell
S.S. everything if interfered with. Leave alone. I shall deal with
The truth was, of course, that this was one of those cases,
happily rare, of a bumptious character who took a cocksure line
with priests and Italian messengers that he would not have dared
to take with officers. In this case Furman had the advantage over
me of first-hand knowledge, and wrote back about the blustery
Know all about him. He's a bit of a rogue, but the S.S. busi-
ness is all balderdash.
Personal knowledge once led Furman to billet two South
African officers in Rome despite the general order that all new
arrivals were to be sent straight back to the country and this
time I had the advantage of knowing something of these two.
THRUST AND PARRY 203
They are all right [wrote Furman, reporting their arrival], I
vetted them personally, and we have mutual friends. I wonder
if they could go 'up the hill' or to some other quiet but safe place?
I replied :
Both these gentlemen wrote to "Mount," who passed their
letters to me : they appear to believe that the inside of the Vat.
is like a large residential area, and "Mount" only has to invite
them in. But they appear to have had a bad time, and obviously
think we should do all we can for them. The hill is out of the
question at the moment; can they be put in the apartment? Any-
way, let them stay in Rome if they wish to.
Sometimes every one was in the dark. One lone British captain
made his way to Rome, got himself taken in by an Italian family,
and lived happily in the middle of the city for several months
before either he or the organization became aware of each other's
On another occasion Lieutenant Furman wrote to ask :
What English officer is living at Porta Pia? We have had a tip-
off that some one there is to be raided, but I know of nobody
We checked thoroughly through all the files, but they revealed
nothing. However, I circulated warnings to all contacts in the
Porta Pia area, in the hope they would reach the billet of the
The circulating of warnings was of vital importance, but they
did not always succeed in their purpose. The failure of two men
to receive one message lost us the home of Mrs Chevalier, and
put the gallant, selfless widow and her copious family out of the
We knew well enough that her house was being watched, for
the alert Mrs Chevalier herself had been quick to take notice of
the two thin men in plain clothes, accompanied by an Italian
woman, who spent most of their day in the caf6 on the other side
of the street. When the two men strolled across, and casually
questioned the porter of the block about her, the porter lost no
time in warning Mrs Chevalier, who, through her curtains, could
see them settling themselves comfortably again in the caf with-
in arm's reach of the telephone.
204 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
There were, of course, no escapers billeted with Mrs Chevalier
at the time, but she had been 'Mother' to so many living in other
billets that she inevitably had frequent social calls from her grate-
ful ex-lodgers. I would have been the last to presume that my
"stay indoors" orders had succeeded in ending this somewhat
thoughtless practice, but fortunately, Mrs Chevalier, who had
rarely shown enough concern for her own safety, now realized
that a single visit might be her death warrant. She managed to
get a message to Lieutenant Furman that her house was under
close observation, and without wasting time he immediately
flashed warnings to everybody he thought might be tempted to
call at the hospitable flat. He ordered escapers that under no
circumstances at all were they to go near the place.
But two, Martin and Everett, an American, never received the
warning, and next morning they strolled casually into the block
of flats, unaware that hostile Gestapo eyes were firmly riveted
on their disappearing backs. This was the very sort of situation I
had sought to prevent by the general order to stay indoors, which
they were flagrantly disobeying. With leisurely unconcern, they
made their way up the five flights of stairs, but as soon as they
saw Mrs Chevalier when she opened the door, they knew some-
thing was wrong.
"Go, go!" said Mrs Chevalier urgently. "The Germans are
Martin and Everett realized that they might be heading straight
into the arms of the Gestapo, but they turned without hesitation
and ran down the stairs. Quite properly, their thoughts were fixed
on putting as much distance as possible between Mrs Chevalier
and themselves before they were caught. Slowing to a walk at the
foot of the stairs, they strolled out of the main entrance into the
street, and, forewarned, immediately noticed a thin man in a
raincoat emerge from the caf6 opposite. They quickened their
pace, and so did the Gestapo agent, but at the first opportunity,
before he had crossed the road, they swung into a narrow court-
yard, and immediately broke into an all-out gallop.
Back at the flat, Mrs Chevalier had already put her last-ditch
evacuation plan into operation. One at a time, at brief intervals, and
without baggage of any sort, her daughters and son were leaving,
turning in different directions as they emerged from the front
door. Mrs Chevalier was the last to go, and had little hope that
THRUST AND PARRY 2O5
she would be allowed to get far, but the simple ruse was success-
ful. It did not occur to the remaining agent in the caf6 that among
people constantly drifting out of the block of flats was an entire
family abandoning its home. Presumably, his orders had been to
watch for British ex-prisoners, and the possibility that the bait
might trickle out of the trap had never occurred to him.
By different routes, Mrs Chevalier and her family made their
way to the home of a friend some distance away, and one by one,
some after deliberately long walks, her family arrived, to meet a
growing chorus of welcome. Eventually, the whole family moved
to a farm comfortably on the outskirts, where they remained until
the Germans left Rome. We were able to send assistance to them,
though it could never represent more than a fraction of what the
Allies owed to Mrs Henrietta Chevalier.
The safety of this family was the only consoling feature of what
otherwise was a very sorry incident indeed. Reporting on what
had happened, Lieutenant Furman wrote :
A big Hap ensued, and the family's evacuation may be a good
thing in one way, because there was always the danger that if
the place was raided they would have given the whole show away.
"Mrs M." told me she was hard up, and I gave her 3000 lire.
I sighed as I read. If only people would obey their orders,
including unpopular and even apparently unreasonable ones,
fewer good lives would be endangered. But I contented myself
with commenting to Furman on the evacuation of the Cheva-
liers. "A very wise precaution."
As for Martin and Everett, I had some thoughts ready for them,
but they had disappeared. Lieutenant Furman pursued energetic
inquiries, but could find no trace of them at all, and after three
days we had to presume that they were lost. Then, through Italian
contacts, Furman accidentally discovered that both had eluded
their German pursuer, and were safe and sound in a billet the
existence of which had been completely unknown to us.
Meanwhile inquiries were continuing in the attempt to find
out what had happened to Bill Simpson. Our efforts were
strenuous but unavailing, for, had we but known it, Simpson him-
self had completely covered his tracks. And the Gestapo had yet
another blow for us they caught one of the priests, and dragged
him away to their dreaded headquarters at Via Tasso.
"DON'T lie!" shouted the Gestapo commandant, landing an-
other vicious blow with the back of his hand across the face of
the half-conscious, half-clothed priest. "We know who you are,"
he went on, "y u are ^ English officer. You can't fool us, dis-
guising yourself as a priest."
One of the things I dreaded most had happened the Gestapo
had pounced on a priest for 'questioning* in their own sadistic
Father Ansclmo Musters, the Netherlands-born priest who was
coded as "Dutchpa," realized that the Gestapo must have got on
to something, for he knew very well that I was the officer who had
masqueraded as a priest. He himself, moreover, had been working
continuously with Monsignor O'Flaherty from the earliest days,
and he was horribly aware that he had knowledge enough to
secure the downfall of the whole organization if the Germans
could get it out of him. Silently, in the cacophony of shouted
questions and savage blows, he prayed for strength to with-
On the previous day, in the bright May sunshine that turned
Rome into a city of sparkling light, he had been striding through
the streets, active on the organization's business. He had just left
the billet of a South African sergeant, and was on his way to two
others, when he realized that a grim-looking man in plain clothes
was keeping an even distance behind him. He stopped for a
moment, and the plain-clothes man stopped too, looking uncon-
vincingly into a shop window. Thoughtfully Father Musters
strode on, but he changed his course, and turned towards the
cathedral-like church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Before he could
set foot on the vast flight of steps which, running more than the
width of the church's columned f agade, marked the limit of Vati-
can extra-territorial property, the plain-clothes man overtook
him, and ordered him to halt.
"Identity documents," he demanded, in a strong, guttural
accent, which left no doubt about his nationality.
OPEN CITY 207
"I will show them to you on the steps of the church," said
Father Musters, striding on, and resting his hopes on the moderate
protection of extra-territorial sanctity.
The Gestapo man jumped in front of him, to bar his way, but
Father Musters strode round him, and started up the side steps,
polling a pistol from inside his coat, the German ran up after
him, and commanded him to stop, but with only a glance at the
ugly muzzle waving in his face, Father Musters pushed the man
unceremoniously aside, and gained the top of the steps.
Then he felt a vicious blow on the back of his head, and as
he crumpled in a daze, he fell forward almost into the church
and unmistakably on to Vatican property. A Palatine guard,
who from within the door had seen the priest struck from behind
with the butt of the pistol, rushed forward to drag the half-con-
scious priest into the church. The German, pocketing his pistol,
turned angrily on his heel, ran down the steps, and disappeared
across the piazza.
Helped by the guard into a small vestry, Father Musters got
in touch with the Vatican authorities, who told him to remain
where he was until the following morning, when he would be
collected by an escort, and taken back to his Mother house. "You
will be quite safe where you arc for the time being," he was told
by his superiors.
They were wrong. Less than half an hour later a large squad
of uniformed S.S. men, all fully armed, completely surrounded
the great church, and one group, led by an S.S. captain, marched
up the steps, and into the church. Pushing aside the protesting
Palatine guard, the jack-booted Germans, sub-machine-guns at
the ready, clattered noisily through the still aisles to the room
where Father Musters sat.
"On your feet," commanded the German captain. "You will
come with us."
"This is extra-territorial property," replied the Dutch priest
evenly. "You have no right to burst in here. I have been ordered
by my superiors to stay here."
For answer, the captain turned, took a sub-machine-gun from
one of his men, and swung it with all his force on to the priest's
head. For the second time in half an hour, Father Musters
crumpled to the ground, and he was barely conscious as two S.S.
men grabbed him by the feet, and dragged him through the
208 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
church, out of the door, and down to the piazza, his head bump-
ing on each successive step as they descended.
He still had not fully recovered when he was bundled into the
Gestapo headquarters at Via Tasso, but was sufficiently conscious
to realize that his arrival had generated an atmosphere of triumph
among the Germans. Gradually he became aware that they were
under the impression that they had captured an English colonel in
His clothes were torn from him and searched minutely, every
garment being stripped of its lining and opened up at the seams.
Even his shoes were taken completely to pieces. The Germans
found nothing that could incriminate him, but this did not deter
them, and they screamed and bellowed constantly at him, "Con-
fess you're an English spy."
With his arms handcuffed behind his back, and his feet heavily
manacled, the priest was interrogated daily for a fortnight by
two S.S. officers, who questioned him endlessly about an organiza-
tion which, they said, the authorities knew existed, to assist Allied
ex-prisoners-of-war. They even showed him a diagram, discon-
certingly accurate, which they had made of the organization, and
threatened him with death if he did not tell them where he fitted
into it Steadfastly, through all forms of physical and mental mal-
treatment, he maintained he knew nothing about it.
Because of the circumstances of the priest's arrest, and the fact
that he had contacted the Vatican, I was soon informed that he
had fallen into enemy hands. While the ecclesiastical authorities
went to work to secure his release, I immediately put our normal
security arrangements into operation. Working on the assumption
that every one of the billets known to the captured priest must
be considered compromised, I sent warnings to all the 'padrones,'
and had all the prisoners evacuated to other accommodation well
before the curfew descended on Rome.
In the event it proved unnecessary, since not one of the ad-
dresses known to Father Musters was ever raided, for although
constantly under threat of death, and brutally and repeatedly
beaten up, the gallant priest stood up to his inquisitors for three
dreadful weeks without revealing a single word about the or-
ganization. On the twenty-first day even the past-masters of in-
terrogation admitted themselves defeated, and threw Father
Musters into a dark cell. There he remained in absolute isolation
OPEN CITY 20g
for a fortnight, and then was put on a train for Ger-
Had he reached Germany, his fate would have been sealed,
but Father Musters, though battered, bloody, and bruised, was
by no means broken in spirit, and when the train halted at Flor-
ence he eluded his guards, made a dash, and got clean away. He
headed at once for Rome, but by the time he arrived it was June,
and he found a very different city from the one he had left.
On May 18 Gassino, the stumbling-block and pivot of the
whole stubborn, static line in the south of Italy, fell at last. Polish
forces marched into the hilltop monastery, and the Allies began to
sweep northward through Italy. A new spirit began to surge
through Rome, and I found myself confronted with a wealth of
offers of help. Everybody who had the slightest suspicion of the
existence of the organization now wanted to join it.
With the Allied occupation of Rome imminent, Italians whose
co-operation had not been conspicuous in the past, were falling
over themselves in the scramble to offer their services to anybody
with the slightest claim to be an enemy of Germany. Every one
who had denounced anyone during the long night of German
occupation sought frantically to render some small service to the
other side, and even the few renegade Allied nationals, who had
earlier thrown in their lot with the Axis, sent out pitiful feelers,
in the hope of putting themselves back on the right side of the
I was delighted, for although I realized that most of these
came from sources that we would earlier have avoided at all
costs, there was no reason why we should not now make some
use of them. Of course, I never contemplated using any of these
Vicar of Bray characters for billeting or supply work, but there
were two services which they could render without risk to our
organization. They could take over a large part of the illegal and
onerous task of buying up on the black market the prodigous
supplies we needed, and they could act as one-way informa-
tion sources, collecting odd scraps of knowledge about enemy
activity, which we collated and passed to the advancing British
Clearly the end was now at last almost in sight, but there re-
mained plenty of time for a fatal slip before the cup of liberation
reached our lips, so rather than slackening the security rein, I
2IO THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
tightened it still further. There was always the possibility that
the Germans would raid the Vatican as their hold on Rome
weakened, and my feeling of personal responsibility for 3500
escapers, of whom 136 were in Rome, grew with every passing
day, for with more and more of our enemies dropping back into
the city and its environs, the risk of recapture rose steadily.
For an escaper to be taken now, with liberation so close, was a
tragedy, yet there were constant reminders of the danger, and
Lieutenant Furman, although now travelling about the city much
less than before, seemed to be permanently poised on the very
brink of recapture. On one occasion he was out delivering Ameri-
can-issue tobacco, bought on the black market but still in its
original colourful wrappings, when the tram on which he was
travelling screeched to a sudden stop. The Italian Fascists had
set up an unusually impressive road-block, he was uncomfortably
aware of the incriminating evidence in his pockets. Two or three
American packets of tobacco would invite dangerous questions,
if only on the grounds of black-marketeering, but his small note-
book was a much bigger risk, for although in a code of his own,
it contained the addresses of many of his billets. Yet he could not
throw it away, or even part of it, without being seen. With his
hand in his pocket, he tore out the pages, and screwed them into
a tight little ball. He did not dare to throw it on to the floor, but
as the passengers crowded together to leave the tram, he found
himself pressed against a stout Italian matron with a heaving
bosom and a crowded shopping-basket, so he dropped the in-
criminating pellet into the basket among the vegetables.
The organization's secrets would next, in all probability, be
found in some suburban kitchen, but Furman was not worried,
since the scribbled pages were completely meaningless in them-
selves, and none of the notes or addresses or other personal hiero-
glyphs were capable of interpretation by any one but himself.
He was still, of course, left with the gaudy American packets
of tobacco, but these were less dangerous. By now the men in
the tram were being marshalled out on the street, so working
again by touch, Furman tore open the packets, emptied the
tobacco into his pocket, and unobtrusively dropped the labels be-
hind him. He had tactfully taken his place at the end of the queue,
and by the time he reached the checking-table there was nothing
incriminating about him except a pocket full of loose tobacco.
Unlike the disgruntled tram passengers who had gone before
him, Furman did not protest and gesticulate at the table, but,
with a silent, haughty smile, handed over his impressive collection
of identity documents. His Vatican card and his pass signed by
the German Minister were papers of a much higher level than
those the Fascists usually unearthed, and Furman could see the
Fascist officers looking curiously towards him as they conferred
over them in the background. Without speaking a word, he main-
tained his aloof, slightly patronizing attitude, as though he fully
understood that the common soldiery had to carry out its menial
duty. His papers were returned, and he accepted them with no
more than a patient smile. He nodded to the officer who seemed
to be in charge, turned and walked slowly away, swaggering
slightly and not until he was safely round a corner of the street
did he give in to his urge to get away as fast as his legs would
I presented my documents, and got away without having to
speak a word [Furman reported gleefully to me]. Herewith one
bottle of brandy, 800 lire. I still have 1 200 of yours.
What an escape [I replied]. Please don't bother about any more
booze, John it is far too much trouble. You and "Rinso" have a
drink with the balance, to celebrate your latest escape !
But Furman was still in trouble. When he returned on the
evening of his narrow escape to his billet, in Via Dalmazia, he
was warned to leave at once because a visit from the police was
imminent, not because of the organization, but following a
burglary at the business address of his 'padrone,' Luciana. Fur-
man, fortunately, had an alternative billet within ten minutes'
walk, at the flat of Lutiana's brother, Tonini, to which he had
an invitation to go any time he was in difficulties.
A week later he had to change his billet again, and this time he
made his journey through the streets in company with Bruno,
the Republican Guard deserter, who was still wearing his officer's
uniform, with revolver at the waist. Furman also was armed,
with a tiny ornamental pistol made for a lady's handbag, but
effective enough at close range. Moreover, his pockets were stuffed
with Rome Organization money and documents.
With this compromising evidence, they were stopped in Via
212 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Clitunno by two men who demanded to see their identity docu-
ments, and at the same time produced their own, showing them
to be plain-clothes Fascist police. Furman and the deserter handed
over their identity cards, and as the Fascists studied them,
Furman, one hand in his pocket, gently slid back the safety-catch
on his miniature pistol, and his companion unobtrusively undid
the button on his revolver holster.
Both had the same thought, that it was now too near the end
of the road to be taken without a fight. But the documents satis-
fied the Fascists, and they waved the English officer and the
Italian deserter on their way without further interrogation. Once
again Furman got away without speaking a word at any rate,
only one, "Grazie."
So once again I have to congratulate you on a narrow escape [I
wrote]. Please pay "Rinso" in full and give a little to "Mrs
Rinso" for her excellent work.
Adrienne's "excellent work" at this stage included an ingenious
attempt to rescue Lieutenant Bill Simpson, who was, we were now
sure, in the Regina Coeli. The blonde Frenchwoman suggested
that she should go to the double-agent, Dr Cipolla, and ask him
to approach his German contacts with the proposal that they
should release two of the British officers held at the prison, en-
suring that they knew their freedom was due to Cipolla's efforts.
He was to tell the Germans that he would then be able to get in
with the British, and so continue as a valuable agent for the Ger-
mans after they had been forced to leave Rome. The two prisoners
whose release he was to effect were Lieutenant Simpson and Cap-
tain John Armstrong, who had never been in touch with the or-
ganization, but whom we knew to have been in the Regina Coeli
for the last nine months.
The scheme was complicated but neat, and it put Dr Cipolla
into as curious a r61e as any underground agent ever filled. He
was already working simultaneously for the Germans and the
British, but now, on behalf of the British, he was to pretend to be
a German agent pretending to be a British agent, so as to send in-
formation to the Germans.
Cipolla welcomed Adrienne's scheme, for it gave him the op-
portunity to do something for the Allies, who would soon be in
OPEN CITY 213
Rome, and at the same time enhance his standing with the Ger-
mans. No double-agent could wish for more.
He went straight to the German commandant, explained the
plan which, of course, he put forward as his own and asked
if he could take out two British prisoners of his choice. The com-
mandant, realizing the inevitability of an imminent withdrawal
from Rome, and the desirability of leaving a well-placed agent
in the city, quickly agreed, and handed to Cipolla a list of all the
British prisoners in the Regina Coeli.
Cipolla, scanning through it, saw with alarm that it did not
contain the names of the two men he had undertaken to collect.
He could not inquire about them without giving the whole show
away, and he could scarcely disown the scheme or suggest coming
back another day, so he chose a couple of names on the list at
random. That was how, much to their surprise, two English
civilians, who had been interned since Italy's entry into the war,
came to be prematurely released.
The ruse could not be used again, and Lieutenant Furman
and the Lucidis could not imagine where it had gone wrong. But
back at headquarters I had located the fly in the ointment. Blon
Kiernan had told me that the German military authorities had
made inquiries at the Irish Legation about an Irishman named
William O'Flynn, who was supposed to be employed at the Vati-
can and had received the inevitable reply that no one of that
name was known to the legation.
This was bad news indeed, for O'Flynn was the name that had
been used on Simpson's false documents, and the German inquiry
meant that he was still sticking to a story which the Irish reply
had now proved to be false. The position was thus extremely
delicate. Simpson was not protected as a combatant prisoner-of-
war, and no diplomatic intercession could be made for him with-
out confirming that he was a British officer with an assumed
identity, which would give the Germans every excuse for shoot-
ing him as a spy.
We were still seeking for a solution when we heard from Simp-
son himself, in a letter smuggled out of the prison, and delivered
to us a fortnight later. He wrote :
Three weeks here to-day, and still waiting for something to
happen. Not even interrogated so far. After one week they asked
214 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
my name and occupation and nationality William O'Flynn,
Vatican, Irish, as always. I protested, and asked if they had in-
quired or would advise somebody that I was here. They say they
can't do anything, and I'll have to wait the pleasure of the S.S.
Don't worry there will be no complications. I shall be very
grateful if you will give the bearer 10,000 lire for me. If the pay-
bloke wishes he can debit it to me, but let him understand that
I shall only use part of it myself. Further, if I am still here when
it arrives it shall be given to others that's fixed. Kindest regards
and auguri to all acquaintances; and many thanks to your good
self for all your assistance.
I was acutely conscious that all the assistance we could give to
Simpson at the moment did not amount to much. I sent the
10,000 lire at once, though without much hope that it would ever
reach its destination, and I also sent something more important
a warning to Simpson that his claim to Irish nationality had
already been broken down by the Germans.
In fact, the message did not get through, for he was now in
the one wing of the prison, a semi-basement, guarded solely by
Germans. We had managed to establish a fairly successful service
of information and supplies to prisoners in the Fascist parts of
the prison, but even the substantial bribes paid by the Rome
Organization could not pierce the German wing. The Italian
black-market go-between could find no way through to Simpson.
We now had no way of knowing whether Simpson was dead or
vociferously claiming prisoner-of-war status. The only thing that
was evident was that his future was not bright. Yet when things
seemed blackest, and I was beginning to despair, Monsignor
O'Flaherty had a surprising visitor.
The caller was a Roman nobleman, with whom I had been in
contact earlier under rather different circumstances. I had helped
to smuggle his sister into the Vatican, away from the clutches of
the Fascists, who were searching for her. It was one of our more
audacious enterprises, and was the only occasion when a woman
managed to take part in the Vatican formality of changing the
guard. Wearing the uniform of a Swiss guard, which had been
'borrowed' for her by John May, the lady slipped through the
gate, and unobtrusively joined on the end of a troop while the
guard was being changed at midnight. I was waiting with the
OPEN CITY 215
monsignor and John May, hidden in the deep shadows round a
corner which we knew the marching column would pass. Stand-
ing with our backs flat against the wall, seeing but unseen, we
watched the Swiss Guards tramp by only a yard away, and as the
end of the column passed us, Monsignor O'Flaherty reached out
a black-sleeved arm, grabbed the imposter's shoulder, and tugged
her quickly into the shadows beside us.
It was over in a second, and the Swiss Guards marched on
without noticing anything amiss : the lady pulled off the uniform,
and put on a raincoat which we had brought for her, and then
accompanied John May and me to the British Legation, where,
unknown to the Minister, she remained in hiding until we had
been able to make arrangements for her to stay at the legation of
one of the South American Republics.
This time the nobleman was calling as an emissary from none
other than the man we hated above all in Rome, Piedro Koch,
the chief of the barbaric Fascist neo-Gestapo, who were in charge
of all the recaptured members of our organization in the Regina
Coeli. Koch had seen the red light, and, realizing that if he re-
mained in Rome after the liberation he was more likely to be
physically torn apart than quietly shot, he was making arrange-
ments to go north when the Germans withdrew.
"I think he has no illusions," said the emissary. "He wants to
make a bargain with you. He says that if the monsignor will
arrange to place his wife and mother in hiding in a religious house
when he goes, he, in exchange, will ensure that the monsignor*s
friends are left in the Regina Coeli instead of being transported
The monsignor, however, was far from confident that he could
trust the Fascist to keep his side of the bargain, and, with his usual
wise foresight, he decided to make sure.
"Tell Koch I agree to his suggestion on one condition," he told
the emissary. "As evidence of his good faith, he must first deliver
safely to me the two British officers who are in the Regina Coeli
Lieutenant Simpson and Captain Armstrong. If he does that
I shall make the arrangements he desires for his wife and
When Monsignor O'Flaherty told me what had been going on
I became more optimistic, and wrote to Furaian, "Have great
hopes of getting Bill out to-morrow."
2l6 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Koch accepted the condition imposed by the monsignor, and
agreed to extricate the two officers forthwith.
Shortly afterwards, sitting in his cell, Bill Simpson heard a
request for "Lieutenant Simpson" on the prison's loudspeaker
system, but because my message had not reached him he was still
unaware that his pose as an Irishman had been broken down. He
thought it was a trap, and said nothing. Nor was Captain Arm-
strong forthcoming, and the emissary reported failure.
This placed Monsignor O'Flaherty in a dilemma. Realizing
that Simpson must be maintaining his pose, he knew that it would
be necessary to reveal the assumed name of OTlynn to Koch, if
the Fascist's desire to help his family was to be turned to Simp-
son's advantage, and there were obvious dangers in such a course.
But the alternative was worse. The Germans already knew that
Simpson was not who he said he was, and if he could not be
released from prison before the withdrawal his future was black,
for he would either be investigated and executed, or shot out of
hand before the evacuation. The monsignor made his decision,
and told the emissary to inform Koch that Lieutenant Simpson
might be found under the name of O'Flynn, but what name
Captain Armstrong was using, he had no idea.
This time I was not so optimistic, and I replied to an inquiry
by Furman :
Our efforts for Bill seem to be failing. However, we have not
given up hope yet, and are still trying.
While Monsignor O'Flaherty concentrated on life-saving, a
task at which he was singularly adept, I found many other matters
demanding attention as the Allied advance rolled on towards
Rome, particularly the collection and despatch of information on
German troop movements. Beyond the city the sound of battle
was already audible, but Furman and the other escapere could
only guess what would happen next. They could see German
columns being withdrawn from the battle line, and much heavy
equipment moving steadily northward, but for all any of us knew,
the Germans were still prepared to stand and turn the Eternal
City into a second Stalingrad, defending it street by street, until
nothing but ashes remained.
Cut off from most first-hand information, I was nevertheless
OPEN CITY 217
in a better position than most of us to make a prediction about the
immediate future of Rome, for Blon Kiernan, after another social
caH on Prince Bismarck, had passed on the information that the
Germans intended to declare it an open city. This was splendid
news, for although we had prepared to protect ex-prisoners during
street fighting by sending them down to the catacombs, it would
have been difficult, if not impossible, to keep going through a pro-
longed period of siege. But if the Germans withdrew without
putting up a fight our escapers could remain in their billets with-
out much danger.
Since I was still a prisoner in the Vatican, I was considerably
surprised to find myself the first Briton in Rome to establish
direct contact with the spearhead of the Allied advance. On
June 2 an armoured attack thrust past the Pope's great summer
villa at Castel Gandolfo, where Paul Freyberg had begun his
strange journey to internment, and a British liaison officer came
across the short-wave radio equipment used to maintain contact
Shortly afterwards an excited John May came to me, and said,
"I've just had a message from the Vatican radio-station. They
are in contact with a British officer at Castel Gandolfo who wants
to know if he can speak to somebody British."
'Til deal with it," I replied gladly. "Where is it?"
"There's an operator already on the way here with a portable
set. All part of the service," said John May blandly.
The Italian operator set up his equipment near my window,
called up the villa, and handed the microphone over to me.
"Who are you ?" crackled a voice.
"Major Deny, First Field Regiment."
"Where the hell are you ?" asked the liaison officer.
"In the Vatican," I answered.
"Where did you say ?" asked the unbelieving voice.
"In the Vatican. Can I help you ?"
"Yes have you any idea what is going on in Rome ?"
At that moment I had a very good idea indeed. From the high
window where I stood, there was a clear view of German vehicles
and lines of infantrymen, in single file with their weapons at the
trail, crawling comfortably northward along the Via Aurdia,
which flanked the Vatican City's high wall. "The Jerries appear
to be withdrawing from the city very nicely," I said.
2l8 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
"Is it orderly? Or arc they going to do any street fighting?"
Feeling like a broadcast commentator at a state occasion, I
swept my gaze along the grey line moving slowly below, and re-
plied, "They seem to be pulling back in an orderly manner. There
are no signs of preparation for street fighting. Are you now in con-
tact with the enemy ?"
"No," replied the liaison officer. "They broke off contact last
night. Do you know the position regarding the river bridges in
Rome ? Shall we have difficulty in getting across ?"
"So far as we know, they have not been mined, but if you like
I can find out for certain, and get a message back to you," I
We sent out agents to check on all the bridges nearest to the
Vatican, and the report I was able to give the liaison officer an
hour later was encouraging, for the bridges were intact, and the
Allies would have a clear passage through Rome.
Among the units passing northward below my window had
been a battery of anti-tank guns, a vital factor in defence, and all
the indications were that the Germans would not stand and fight
until they reached the defence line which we knew they had con-
structed forty miles north of Rome.
I could not refrain from asking the question in every one's
mind, "When will you arrive ?"
"Maybe to-morrow or the next day," he replied. "I can't be
sure. We are still pretty far ahead of our main forces."
I replaced the telephone, with a glowing feeling that the end
was near, but we had all thought the same when the Allies landed
at Anzio, twenty miles away, and that was now eighteen weeks
ago. Castel Gandolfo was eighteen miles from Rome, and the
main Allied forces were apparently still far short of it. But it was
a most exhilarating 'phone call.' It brought hope.
In the city itself the Germans and their Fascist henchmen
were as firmly in command as ever, and there was still time for
the whole organization to be rounded up, so no slackening was
allowed on our part. As late as June 3 Lieutenant Furman was
asking about a private who had turned up as a 'major' :
Have you got any dope on this chap? His background is so odd
that we should look pretty silly if he turned out at this stage to be
a wrong 'un.
OPEN CITY 219
I replied with a warning :
Have no dope on this man but treat him with the utmost
There was more danger than ever before that the Germans
would try to infiltrate a spy into the escape line. In the past such
an attempt would have been aimed at uncovering the organiza-
tion, but now, with allied occupation near, it would have the more
sinister purpose of planting an agent behind our own lines. I
hoped the Germans would have been lulled into a false sense of
achievement by the Cipolla incident, but I did not intend to take
chances. I was particularly conscious of the danger of being left
with a spy in our midst, because I had just helped to play the
same trick on the Germans, and among the Fascist refugees
trekking northward were four Italian radio-operators who had
been working in close co-operation with the organization.
The biggest worry, however, was always the fate of our mem-
bers and helpers in the prisons of Rome. There were twenty-four
recaptured escapers in the Regina Coeli, three in the Gestapo
prison at the Via Tasso, and six in the small Forte Boccea, as well
as fifty of our helpers in the Italian sections of the Regina Coeli.
I was immensely relieved when reports began to reach the mon-
signor of the reappearance of some of the Italians in their own
homes. The Germans were still in command, but the Italian
guards at the prisons were beginning to desert their posts, leaving
the cells unlocked as they departed.
As the reports of the reunion of Italian families increased,
Monsignor O'Flaherty and I found our initial delight becoming
more and more subdued, for none of the ex-prisoners-of-war were
among those released. The German-controlled parts of the gaols
were still under supervision as close as ever.
Furman shared this concern, and with a nagging worry about
the fate of Lieutenant Simpson and the others amid the excite-
ment of obviously approaching liberation, he and Renzo Lucidi
found it difficult to concentrate on making up their accounts.
Even as they sat in the Lucidis* comfortable flat in Via Scialoia,
Furman knew that the end, though near, had not yet come. Visit-
ing billets that morning, he had found the streets more than ever
full of Germans and Fascists, and he had noted with regret that
the retreat of the grey columns along the road showed no signs of
being a rout.
22O THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
He and his host were discussing this when the doorbell of the
flat rang. It brought Furman and his companion to their feet
with a sudden shock, for it was the secret signal known to Pas-
qualino Perfetti and passed on to the enemy, but discarded by
the organization. Reliving the terror of that moment in January,
when Biichner, the Jugoslav, now dead, opened the door of the
Via Chelini flat and unwittingly admitted disaster, Furman
listened tensely as Peppina, the maid, crossed the haU. He and
Renzo heard her open the door, and in the same instant they
heard her screams.
A moment later they were racing to the doorway too, for the
scream was not of terror but of joy. Smiling in the doorway stood
Furman and Lucidi dragged him in, detached the tearful Pep-
pina from his shoulder, and pumped both hands at once. In a
flood of relief they admitted to each other for the first time then-
fear that Simpson had been nearer than any of them to the firing-
Beaming at the warmth of his reception, Simpson was
astonished when at last he learned of the complications caused
by his adherence to his false Irish identity, or what Furman called
his "change of cognomt"
Until Furman and Lucidi made it clear to him, he had no idea
how lucky he had been to be left behind when the Germans sud-
denly withdrew their guards, and handed over to Fascist thugs
who promptly deserted. Rome was clearly going to be unhealthy
for any known Fascist. Members of the Italian underground who
had been imprisoned took over, but knowing that the Germans
remained fully in control of the city, they wisely arranged an or-
ganized and disciplined release scheme.
The first to leave were those who had homes near by, but high
priority was given to Allied cx-prisoners-of-war. Simpson was
among these, but the reason he took so long to return to the fold
was completely characteristic of the man. He was released from
the prison with others, and he placed them all in safe billets be-
fore finding a bed for the night for himself. Under the noses of
the Germans flocking the streets, he had emerged from prison,
and gone straight back into action as a billeting officer without
even waiting until he had reported his release.
Leaving Simpson with the wildly elated Lucidis, Lieutenant
OPEN CITY 221
Furman set off to convoy the good news to me, but the German
sentries still stood grimly at their posts in St Peter's Square, and
the gates were guarded as firmly as ever. Furman had to be con-
tent with leaving a message, and on his way home he received
another sharp reminder that the Germans were still masters of
A German soldier prodded him with a pistol, and commanded,
"Run ! Run ! Early curfew to-night !" It was too much for Fur-
man, and he kept on walking, but he realized, as he paced de-
liberately away from the scowling sentry, how silly it would be if,
after all that had happened, he died with a bullet in his back
for no better reason than that he insisted on moving slowly away
from a German.
Simpson remained at the Via Scialoia flat, where, ironically,
the Lucidis were also harbouring the two civilian internees who
had been released from the Regina Coeli, at Dr Cipolla's random
request, in place of Lieutenant Simpson and Captain Armstrong.
Simpson still did not know that he owed his life to Monsignor
O'Flaherty's arrangements with Piedro Koch, but if the mon-
signor had not been aware of Simpson's assumed name he might
not have been left behind by the Germans. In a few days we had
a tragic reminder of this.
The success of the contract between the monsignor and the
Fascist had, in fact, been considerable. Including the escapers,
nearly seventy people were left behind in the prisons, and found
their way to freedom, but as a last gesture of sadistic defiance
against the humiliating end to their long domination of the Eternal
City, the Germans took one group of prisoners from the Regina
Coeli on the road to the north.
Five miles outside Rome the following day, fourteen bullet-
riddled bodies were found. Among them was that of the officer
we had come so close to saving Captain John Armstrong.
THE sun edged over the hazy eastern hills, and the great cross
of St Peter's seemed to gleam as it had never seemed to gleam
before. The long night was over, yet dawn came to a strangely
silent Rome on June 4, 1 944.
The streets and squares were empty, and even the tireless Tiber
looked still, but this was not the sullen silence of resignation to
doom. It was a breathless pause, a silence of expectancy, welling
up behind windows shuttered against the possibility of street fight-
ing, behind tremulous lips that would laugh, and eyes that would
weep for joy at the first sign that the dream was reality and the
day of liberation had really dawned. All over Rome there were
people who, like Sir D'Arcy Osborne, Mr Hugh Montgomery,
Father Owen Snedden and myself, now stood waiting by high
windows, having risen early, or perhaps not slept at all, in order
not to miss the magical moment that marked the return of peace
and dignity to Rome.
Our little group, on the topmost floor of the erstwhile hospice
housing the British Legation, waited in strained silence. Our eyes
were glued on the farthest corner of the wide road along which we
had seen so many men and machines stream northward in the last
few days. Suddenly a line of vehicles swept into view, following
the same familiar course but with such a difference : these were
pursuers, not pursued. It was the veritable point of the Allied spear-
head, an American tank-busting unit of about thirty vehicles,
including a jeep bearing the single star of a brigadier, and I, who
had never come across the American forces in battle before,
thought it was quite the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
Diplomat and butler, soldier and priest, felt a surge of common
emotion : cheering, clapping, slapping each other on the back,
shaking hands, laughing wildly, and all talking at once, we seemed
to throw off in an instant the strain that had settled on us all.
The reservation of the diplomat, the caution of the soldier, the
calm of the priest, were alike swallowed up in a giddy whirlpool
of delight and relief.
In a matter of minutes all Rome became flooded by a pleasant
pandemonium. Into the great square of St Peter's swept tens of
thousands of happy Italians, anxious, as in all moments of crisis,
grave or gay, to receive the blessing of their Pope; British and
American flags, home-made from rags or painted paper, fluttered
out from windows everywhere; the summer morning air tingled
and vibrated with an unforgettable murmur of welcome and
thanksgiving. This, I thought, must be the best reward for taking
arms on the side of honour and justice to be welcomed, not as
conquerors, glamorized for a moment by the tinsel and glitter of
conquest, but as liberators.
Yet this was no time for philosophy. In the city local govern-
ment had evaporated, and all public services were out of action.
In my office the carefully-preserved organization was in danger
of sliding into chaos, for past orders were easily forgotten by
escapers who realized that they would soon be able to return to
their own families.
Lieutenant Colin Lesslie descended from 6 up the hill,' the only
major billet in the city which from first to last had avoided a raid,
to find out what to do with the large group of escapers under his
"Keep 'em there for the time being," I instructed. "But what
about Anderson, the lad who had the appendix operation and a
somewhat mobile convalescence ? I suppose we'd better send an
ambulance up to collect him."
"Not a bit of it," replied Lesslie. "Recovery complete. He's
walking about with the best of them ! "
Lieutenant John Furman renewed old acquaintance with Mon-
signor O'Flaherty's office, the entrances to the Collegio Teutoni-
cum having been reopened at once, but found to his disgust that
he was still unable to get past the Vatican Gendarmerie to the
British Legation. I sent him details of a plan which we had already
worked out, realizing that when liberation came the organization
would need its own headquarters in the city, and he went off with
authority to requisition an appropriate centre before other units
snapped up all the most convenient accommodation. Furman
had already earmarked the very place a luxury flat on the
ground floor of the block where the Lucidis lived. Its tenants
had been a well-known Fascist family, and, as Furman expected,
they promptly moved north when the Allies drew near. He
224 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
requisitioned it, moved in, and started working at once, making
his first task the obtaining of extra rations for the families who
had helped us through the dark days.
Ignoring the order to remain at their billets, escapers from all
over Rome started calling at the Vatican guardrooms for in-
structions, and to avoid wasting further time, I arranged with
the guards to tell all such visitors to go on living where they were
until further notice.
As soon as I could get away from the legation, I set off with
John May in his little car, which for so many months had been
confined within the walls of the Vatican, with the idea of making
a tour of as many of the billets as possible. It gave me a strange
thrill to drive in broad daylight through the gates that I had last
entered five months earlier in the garments of a monsignor, head
Rome was hard to recognize. The tall colonnades around St
Peter's Square, which had always been a place of shadows, subter-
fuge and German sentries, were thronging with happily chatter-
ing Italians; the streets, empty of trams and buses, were crowded
with people, and festooned with the red, white, and blue of the
Union Jack and "Old Glory."
My aim was to go from billet to billet, instructing the escapers
to remain where they were, and pointing out that if they linked
up with any unit on their own they might delay their repatriation,
and would certainly complicate the interrogation work which
would have to be carried out. But I was able to call at relatively
few billets, because every Italian family, free for the first time in
many months from the nagging fear of torture and death, wished
only to celebrate the liberation, and my visit as commander of the
Rome Organization seemed to provide a welcome excuse for a
party with a startling rate of ^mo-consumption. Remembering
these simple, kindly folk only from the time when they had hastily
and fearfully admitted me after a secret ring at the door, I was
astonished by the warmth of their welcome, and it seemed that
every one of our 'padrones' had carefully buried at least one
bottle of good wine for just such an occasion.
Glad that John May was driving, I returned to the Vatican
to find that the genial confusion and gaiety which was transform-
ing Rome had spread like a fever into the British Legation. After
several years as a diplomatic backwater, the legation was now
the one place in Rome that was generally expected to be able to
do anything for everybody, and a constant flow of visitors mingled
with a flood of telephone calls, messages, and requests from the
Vatican Secretariat of State.
There were visitors for me, too, including a senior British
Military Intelligence officer, with whom I naturally had a good
deal to discuss. Brother Robert Pace called after emerging from
hiding and then set off to visit all his old billets.
So many people were calling to see the Minister that John May
found difficulty in finding room for them, and had them waiting
in odd parts of the legation, including my room. I was eating an
early lunch when John May ushered in a British civilian, and
said by way of introduction and apology, "Mr Caccia is calling
on the Minister. There's nowhere else I can ask him to wait." I
greeted the visitor casually, and got on with my meal, but I might
have been less off-hand if I had realized that this was the first
senior representative of the Foreign Office to arrive in Rome
the man who, as Sir Harold Caccia, was later to become Britain's
Ambassador to the United States.
In the mounting turmoil the Secretariat of State expected Sir
D'Arcy Osborne to make his first priority the preservation of the
strict neutrality of the Vatican, particularly since the Germans
had taken a leaf out of the British book, closing their embassy in
Rome, and moving a reduced diplomatic staff into the Vatican
itself. Both British and German Ministries were now within its
Demands poured in from the Secretariat on Sir D'Arcy. The
Secretariat wanted safe conduct for their supply convoys in and
out of Rome, and passes for their servants, and they demanded
immediate removal of the army vehicles, which had parked in
St Peter's Square for the occupants to go sight-seeing and they
did not fail to remind the Minister that the Germans had never
permitted such a violation of the piazza. Difficulties were in-
creased by the fact that the Vatican authorities were already
slightly testy with the British, because in the fighter sweeps over
northern Italy, after the fall of Cassino, a few of their road con-
voys had been mildly shot up. These vehicles, which took supplies
to monasteries or guards on leave in Switzerland, were all painted
yellow and white, with the idea of giving them immunity, and
Sir D'Arcy had, in fact, made strenuous efforts through the
226 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Foreign Office to ensure their protection, but mistakes were bound
Most of the requests flooding in on Sir D'Arc/s tiny staff were
reasonable enough, but his chief problem was that he had no link
with the new Military Government of Rome. That was why the
Minister sent for me, and asked me to act as liaison officer be-
tween the legation and the Rome Area Command. Thus I found
myself appointed temporary military attach^ to the Holy See.
This was agreeable, because I regained my identity, becoming
at last an official resident of the legation where for so long I had
been a diplomatic secret a ghost neither seen nor acknowledged
and a new and perfectly genuine pass was issued in my name.
"Mr Deny," it said in Italian, "is employed by the British Lega-
tion to the Holy See, and has liberty to pass into and out of the
Vatican." So far as the Secretariat was concerned, I had moved
into Rome with the skeleton military staffs, which had been wait-
ing for weeks, ready to re-establish local government and public
services as soon as the Allies marched in. These men were now
engaged on the gigantic task of restoring water and electricity
supplies, bringing trams and buses back into operation, setting up
a food-rationing system, and substituting Allied lire (already in
use throughout the southern part of Italy), for the existing mone-
Armed with my new Vatican papers and a letter from the
British Minister, I visited the offices of the various military
authorities, and obtained from them passes which enabled me to
go anywhere. One problem was to establish contact between the
legation and the new police authorities. Leaving my office one
day to arrange this, I found myself face to face with Lieutenant-
Colonel R. T. Mfflhouse, D.C.M., whom I had last seen in the
uniform of chief constable of my home town,
"I thought you were in Newark !" I said, delighted to see him.
"I expect you did," he grinned, "but I knew damned well
where you were !" Colonel Millhouse had arrived to take over as
public safety officer (chief of police services), for the provinces of
Lazia and Umbria, and our meeting resulted in the slashing of
the red tape for the issue of passes and permits for Rome Or-
Shortly afterwards I was warned to be on call for a V.I.P.
who was expected at the legation, and when I was summoned
to the Minister's office I found myself face to face with the Allied
Commander-in-Chief, General (later Field-Marshal Viscount)
Alexander. It was a slightly embarrassing moment, because the
general, rated by many as Britain's greatest soldier of the war,
was neat and 'properly dressed,' by the best military standard,
while I wore a tight blue suit, with a gusset let into the seat of the
trousers. It was a rather bizarre ending to a bizarre command,
for I had taken over while wearing a priest's soutane, and was
now making my report to my Commander-in-Chief wearing
clothes in which I had to sit down with caution.
Any discomfiture, however, was outweighed by pleasure at the
warmth of the general's appreciation of the work of the Rome
Organization, for it was clear that he had known a great deal of
what had been going on behind enemy lines even before Sir
D'Arcy Osborne filled in the gaps for him. The interview was
significant, because it marked the end of the organization as we
knew it, and the simultaneous beginning of a new organization,
which was to go on for more than two years.
The general's main concern was for those who had risked their
lives and suffered loss to help us. All the escapers would be trans-
ferred as soon as we could marshal them to a repatriation unit,
which already existed in embryo, and would be returned to their
vfamilies with a minimum of delay, but General Alexander was
anxious that those who through dangerous months had made their
repatriation possible should not be foigotten. He asked me to set
up an ad hoc organization which would collect evidence, pend-
ing the establishment of a new unit, to recompense helpera and
it was a request, not an order.
"I'd like to stay, sir," I said, and I meant it. Much as the
thought of home appealed to me, I could not bear the idea of
walking out on all the loyal helpers who had made the organiza-
tion's work possible, without first trying to do something to ensure
that they were compensated. I was pretty sure that Lieutenants
Simpson and Furman would be of the same mind, even though
they had suffered more than I, and had even stronger cause for
repatriation. I was not mistaken. They moved into the new flat
at Via Scialoia, where they were joined by Captain Byrnes, with
his exhumed records, and the indefatigable Greek, Theodore
Mdetiou, and together they started on the work straight away.
We were a unique unit (as I suppose we always had been),
228 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
answerable to none of the various authorities in Rome. General
Alexander had ordered me to make my reports direct to the office
of his Chief-of-Staff, General (later Field-Marshal Sir John)
Harding, and results were rapid. I received an order establishing
a ration strength of ten for the new unit, and giving authority for
the requisitioning of property and the drawing of supplies, includ-
ing the invaluable, and otherwise unobtainable, petrol and oil.
Our first task, naturally, was handing over escapers. The Allies
had arrived prepared for a giant and virtually unprecedented
job, and one of the first headquarters established in the city was
that of the Repatriation Unit, geared ready to house, clothe, feed,
interrogate, and generally administer thousands of escapers and
The unit established itself in a barracks, and took over camps
as transit bases for the temporary accommodation of the ex-
prisoners. By the time of the liberation, the Rome Organization
had on its books the names of 3925 escapers and evaders, of
whom 1695 were British, 896 South African, 429 Russian, 425
Greek, 185 American, and the rest from no fewer than twenty
different countries. Fewer than 200 were billeted actually in
Rome, but of the thousands in the 'country branch' most, by far,
were in the rural areas immediately surrounding the city, scattered
in groups varying in size from three to more than a hundred.
We handed over responsibility immediately for this under-
ground army, but it was not quite so easy to hand over the men
themselves, for after months of confinement they not unnaturally
wanted a day or two to celebrate, before they reported to the
formidable looking barracks. Those men who had been 'living
rough' in the country were glad to move into the camps estab-
lished for them, but the 'Romans' were not so keen. Most of them
were living in comfortable private homes, now without fear of
arrest for themselves or retribution for their hosts, and they had
money of their own to spend.
This was because we had paid out, at the beginning of the
month, subsistence allowances sufficient to keep them going for a
fortnight and the liberation had come a couple of days later.
They very nearly had twice as much, for Lieutenant Funnan
wrote on May 29 :
In favour of a full month is the fact that should our condition
not be changed by June 15, circulation to distribute the money
may well prove more than hazardous. If our condition has
changed, then we shall be somewhat out of pocket, but either the
chaps themselves or their 'padrones' will benefit a not altogether
undesirable circumstance. So, on the whole, I favour a full month's
This was eloquent advocacy, but I was confident of an immi-
nent liberation, and I could not take as philanthropic a view of
the distribution of the Government money as Furman, so I ordered
payment for a fifteen-day period. It proved more than enough.
With money in their pockets, freedom to move about as they
wished, and the Italian summer sun shining on a Rome bubbling
with the spirit of festa, our 'Romans' found it convenient to
obey the last order they had received, which was to remain at
their existing billets until further notice. They guessed, quite
rightly, that it would take time and effort before fresh orders
Nevertheless, the Allied Repatriation Unit was so thoroughly
prepared for its task that within a week all the escapers and
evaders from the Rome area were transferred to Naples, whence
they were, with very little delay, shipped home. In the short time
that they were at the transit camps every one was interrogated
by intelligence officers flown in from Ban, and extracts from
their reports were sent to help the new organization in recording
assistance given by Italians to the Allied cause.
The Allied Repatriation Unit subsequently functioned all over
the world, dealing with many thousands of prisoners released or
left behind by retreating (and later defeated) Germans and
Japanese, but it was in Rome that it had its first operational ex-
perience, and I like to imagine that nowhere did it meet a stranger
situation than in the Eternal City, where in one small area, nearly
4000 men had all been at large for months under the noses of the
The escaper most quickly reunited with his family was Lieu-
tenant Paul Freyberg. General Freyberg came by car into Rome
to collect his son, and a few days later Lady Freyberg opened a
club in the city for New Zealand forces. In a note to me later
Lieutenant Paul Freyberg wrote :
I hope you are hanging, drawing, and quartering all the various
bastards who caused us annoyance, and that the old chestnut
about the Mills of God will for once come true.
THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
I was still aware that there was a war to be fought and won,
but to the Romani, it was all over. To them, it was the past that
mattered, and the only thing demanding urgent attention was
the punishment of the collaborators and denouncers. "What are
you doing about Perfetti?" I was asked two dozen times a day.
Italians began to seek me out simply to tell me, repeatedly and
insistently, "You must have so-and-so arrested at once."
I was pretty sure that the mills would, in due course, grind
exceeding small; and, in fact, retribution was catching up with
the delinquents one by one. Piedro Koch, the Fascist master-
torturer, had been overtaken on his way north, and was sub-
sequently shot. Since his wife and mother had made their own
way south to Naples, Monsignor O'Flaherty was relieved of his
obligation to hide them in a religious house, but they were, of
course, quite safe, since the Allies did not shoot women for the
offences of their husbands and sons. Pasqualino Perfetti and his
old associate, Aldo Zambardi, were both arrested, and thrown
into the Regina Coeli, to which their denunciations, particularly
Perfettfs, had condemned so many Italians and escapers only a
few weeks earlier. These two had been my first contacts on enter-
ing the town, and, personally, I owed a good deal to them, but
it had not taken me long to discover that Perfetti's motive was
not a desire to help the ex-prisoners so much as an affection for
the money which it brought him. Zambardi's denunciations had
been few compared with the bogus priest's, but, on the other
hand, it could at least be said for Perfetti that he had been badly
beaten up before he started his long tour, guiding the Germans
to the billets, whereas Zambardi, once he had been implicated
by Perfetti, told the little that he knew without further 'per-
suasion/ There were, as might be expected, many families in
Rome whose chief ambition was to lynch Perfetti, but he was
transferred to a prison in Milan, after threats by the Romans to
burn the hated Regina Coeli to the ground, and that was the last
I heard of him.
Dr Cipofla, the unashamed double-agent, made no attempt to
get out of Rome, and was consequently arrested. I was satisfied
that in all his intrigues he had never done anything to harm the
organization or Allied ex-prisoners. Indeed, apart from his con-
siderable, if self-interested, assistance at a time when a change of
control in Rome was obviously near, he had helped Monsignor
O'Flaherty before my arrival, and was instrumental in obtaining
the Via Chelini flat. However, the Italians had some scores to
settle with him, and he came up for trial. Through Renzo Lucidi,
we ensured that the brighter side of Cipolla's case was made
known, and he escaped with his life, although he was sentenced
to a pretty savage term of twenty-four years' imprisonment.
During the dark days of the organization it had once seemed
that everybody was denouncing everybody else, and now it all
happened again. Many denunciations were made in an under-
standable spirit of revenge, but a fair proportion of them were
aimed at throwing a smoke-screen over the denouncer's own mis-
deeds, and I watched the tide of recrimination with mixed feel-
The case of Cipolla was an example of the problem set by
people who had, at various times served both sides, for those
now denounced were rarely, like Koch, completely evil, but
only characteristically human a mixture of good and bad. Those
who knew only one side of Dr Cipolla's activities, for instance,
thought that he should be shot at once, but those who knew only
of the other thought he should be given a medal. Aware of some-
thing of both sides, I could only ensure that those who sat in
judgment were given as balanced a view as possible, and informed
of any good work done for the organization. Quite often I had
deliberately accepted assistance from dubious characters; more
than once I had been surprised at the good results.
There was, for example, the case of Jack S. I had first heard of
him around Christmas-time, while I was still moving about in
Rome. Brother Robert Pace reported that this man was very
anxious to help in the organization's work, and could be very
useful, as he had a flat, a car, and a permit to use it. On hearing
this I bristled with suspicions as sharp as the quills of an angry
porcupine, for anyone who was permitted to run a car was work-
ing for the Germans or the Fascists, so I urged Brother Robert,
"Don't have anything to do with this chap at all."
Soon afterwards I discovered by accident that Jack S. was, in
fact, being used to bring escapers to Rome, and find billets, and
when I taxed Brother Robert about this he replied somewhat
sheepishly, "He is very good, and he can get around. But he would
very much like to meet somebody in authority."
"No doubt," I replied, "but he isn't going to. If you must use
232 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
him don't let him know anything about anybody. Let him look
after the people he brings into Rome and places in billets him-
self , but no more,"
I was still sure Jack S. was a potential danger, although I gave
up hope of convincing the trusting Brother Robert. Surprisingly,
however, the scheme seemed to work, and I sent money through
Brother Robert, who regularly reported back on the good work
that Jack S. was doing for him never without mentioning that
he was still most anxious to meet somebody in authority. I con-
tinued to ward off these requests, but they still turned up even
after I had withdrawn to the British Legation.
Towards the end of February Brother Robert casually men-
tioned to Lieutenant Simpson that he might meet Jack S., but
Simpson, cautious as ever, asked me for information first.
I have never met this man [I replied], although he tried many
times to see me. However, he has done much for our boys in the
last few months. There is quite a lot of his story that does not fit
in, and I know quite a lot about him that I cannot put on paper,
so be careful of anything you tell him. Also, warn any of our
boys who are put with him to be sure not to talk of the organiza-
tion or say where any of their friends live. However, I do not wish
to upset him, as he has certainly done some excellent work.
Simpson replied four days later :
I have not met this individual yet and am not particularly
keen. "Edmund" told me yesterday that he had told his boys not
to speak about the gang to J.S., but apparently some had already
said so much though nothing very important.
Shortly afterwards, through sudden pressure on billets, Simpson
passed three escapers to Jack S. through "Edmund" (Father
Madden) without making direct contact.
Then Jack S. was arrested, exactly as I had expected, for when-
ever the Germans succeeded in placing a stool-pigeon in an under-
ground organization they usually 'arrested' him when the time
came for him to present his detailed report. In that way the
people on whom he had been spying might be hood-winked, and
the man would be available for further service.
All the billets known to Jack S. were immediately evacuated,
and a warning sent to Brother Robert, Father Madden, and all
the others who had been in contact with him, to be on their guard.
Much to my surprise, as the weeks went by, not one of the
billets known to Jack S. was raided, and he remained in custody
instead of emerging to guide the Gestapo from place to place. I
became increasingly curious, and eventually learned through the
police contacts that Jack S. had been tortured and badly beaten
up, but had divulged nothing about the organization. Concluding
that I had misjudged my man, as I had Joe Pollak, I was de-
lighted when, on the liberation, Jack S. was found to be among
those left alive in the Regina Coeli.
A few days after the Allied occupation I was walking with a
senior official of the Foreign Office in the garden of the old
British Embassy, now being prepared for re-opening, when my
companion produced a list of names, and handed it to me.
"These are all renegade British subjects who have, to our know-
ledge, worked with the enemy," he said. "We are rather anxious
to get our hands on them. Know anything about any of them ?"
I glanced at the piece of paper, and right at the top of the
list saw the name of Jack S.
"I can put my hand on this one straight away," I said, "though
I never knew he was a British subject. I thought he was Italian."
"Born in London," the Foreign Office official replied. "His
father was of Italian descent, but one hundred per cent. British
in outlook, and has done a lot of jolly good work. This lad didn't
share his father's loyalty, but offered his services to the Italians
as soon as they entered the war, collected some forged documents
from the Italian Embassy before it put up the dust-sheets, and left
in the last trainload of diplomats on their way back here."
"I always thought there must be somehthing odd about him,"
I said, "but he has done a lot of very good work for me. Why
should the Foreign Office be so keen on grabbing him ?"
The official looked at me coldly. "Didn't you know," he asked
with incredulity, "that this man was the 'Cockney Broadcaster
I was astonished. I was well aware that William Joyce, the
"Lord Haw-Haw" of German propaganda broadcasts, was by
no means the only British subject to have acted as a radio mouth-
piece for the enemy, and I had heard of his cockney counterpart
on Rome Radio, but it had never occurred to me that this man
might be in my own organization.
Jack S. was, of course, arrested, because his propaganda
234 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
broadcasts, while of much less significance than those from Ger-
many, still constituted high treason. But I could not forget that
he had worked hard for British ex-prisoners over a long and dan-
gerous period, and when at last the test had come he had shown
selfless courage in refusing to denounce the British Organization,
in spite of torture. I put this side of his activities before the
authorities as strongly as I could, and eventually, unlike William
Joyce, a Fascist with no saving graces, Jack S. did not go to the
gallows. In fact, he was not even sent back to Britain to stand
trial. The eminently reasonable decision made was that he should
remain in internment until the Allies left Italy, and then be re-
leased, but warned that if he ever set foot on British territory any-
where in the world he would be arrested and tried for treason.
If the liberation brought some shady characters into the lime-
light it also allowed the secret agents with more honourable back-
grounds to emerge at last from the underground. Into the light,
for instance, came the picturesquely titled Liberty or Death
movement of fearless Greeks, who had helped our organization
from the earliest days, and whose finances, in return, had been
backed by the British Government. As the Allies marched into
Rome, the Liberty or Death agents had little silver badges made
and displayed them proudly in their buttonholes.
Lieutenants Simpson, Furman, and myself were each pre-
sented with one of these badges, and became the first Britons in
a Greek organization, most of whose members, alas, were to have
angry things to say about Britain when disputes arose over Cyprus
after the war. Indeed, throughout the life of the Rome Organiza-
tion one of our staunchest and most gallant allies against the
common enemy, was the man who became Greek Foreign
Minister and one of our bitterest opponents over Cyprus Angelo
The friendship and, indeed, affection between us was typified
by the letter which Angelo Averoff sent me with the silver badge:
We have the honour and the pleasure to inform you that the
executive committee of the organization of Liberty or Death, in
full agreement with its supreme adviser, the ex-Minister for the
Air Force, Mr Alexander Zannas, has elected you as an honorary
member of the above, our organization. This is quite a natural
thing after such a collaboration, full of friendship that loyal
friendship which characterizes the relations between our two
countries. We beg to enclose herewith the distinctive of the Liberty
or Death a distinctive which was concealed up to this day, and
which we can finally bear.
For Lieutenant Furman, it was a second "distinctive," for he
already had his own in the form of a little Union Jack brooch,
which he had taken to wearing under his lapel during the last
few weeks, and which was, in fact, in its place on both recent
occasions when he was stopped and asked for his papers. This,
of course, he had not mentioned to me in his reports, any more
than that he had taken to carrying a tiny pistol, for he knew that
my reaction would have been unequivocal. If he had been
searched either brooch or pistol, and certainly the combination of
the two, would have been a death warrant.
In the turmoil of the first couple of days we had so much to
do that there was no time for relaxation and reunions, but there
were some periods when I deliberately pushed work aside, no
matter how pressing, and that was when the B.B.C. war news was
due. Only a couple of days after the liberation of Rome, Father
Snedden and I were having a quiet drink with John May, when
we were electrified to hear the first announcement of Allied
landings in Normandy, and although the brief statement gave no
indication that this was the opening of the long-awaited "Second
Front," the fact that it was headed "Communique No. i" made
it clear to any soldier that it was more than just another coast
By evening it was obvious that the Allies, in full force, were
fighting their way back into Northern Europe, and with the joy
of the Rome liberation still warm within us, we felt that now the
time had come for the party we had all been promising ourselves.
With Lieutenants Furman and Simpson, Renzo and Adrienne
Lucidi, the American Lieutenant Dukate, and other escapers still
in Rome, plus a good number of the Italian girls who had been
among our helpers, I launched the biggest party the Rome Or-
ganization ever knew. Memories flooded back as we ate and
drank in the Grand Hotel, which Furman, Simpson, and I could
still picture vividly under very different circumstances, crowded
with German officers and leading Fascists. In the pleasant bar of
the Orso our friend the barman, Felix, had proudly erected a
notice informing his customers that the bar was regularly patron-
ized by British officers during the German occupation, and to
236 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
endorse the claim the three of us signed this notice, which was a
showpiece when the bar ultimately became an officers' club.
As the British Minister's attach^, I came to the conclusion that
it was not fitting for the chief representative of H.M. Government
to remain without transport of his own. Besides, he was finding it
increasingly difficult to make all the calls demanded of him, and
after all we had authority from the highest military level to re-
quisition enemy property.
Armed with the necessary papers, I therefore looked around
for a car for Sir D'Arcy, and it was not long before my eye fell
upon the gleaming giant left in Rome by Prince Bismarck, to
whom (though he did not know it) we were already substantially
indebted. It was a stupendous vehicle, specially built with a highly
polished aluminium Heinkel body wrapped round an enormous
Lancia engine. It had flamboyant, sweeping lines, four head-
lights at the front, and another on each side of the windscreen,
and every conceivable embellishment and extra comfort.
It was, I thought, the most beautiful motor-car I had ever seen,
so I requisitioned it on the spot, swept away in it to the Vatican,
and proudly produced it to the Minister. Like me, he needed
only a single glance at the magnificent monster to make up his
"Thank you, Major Deny," he said, with a perceptible
shudder, "but do you think you could find me something a little
less er spectacular ?"
I was only too happy to oblige, for after a couple of miles at
the wheel of this 'Silver Bullet' I was filled with covetousness, so
I went out again, and collected a sober, stately limousine for Sir
D'Arcy tut kept the 'Silver Bullet' for myself.
I was on a journey in it one day, accompanied by a girl from
the American Embassy, when I picked up a British corporal who
had thumbed a lift. As we drove along I asked him casually
where he lived.
"Oh, you wouldn't know it, sir," he replied deprecatingly. "It's
a little place in Nottinghamshire called Newark."
"Why, that's my home too ! " I exclaimed.
"And mine," said the girl, in a strong American drawl. We
looked at her blankly. "Newark, New Jersey," she added.
The car remained with me for as long as I stayed in Rome.
Prince Bismarck apparently nursed an affection for it, because
some years later he asked the British authorities if he could have
it back. He was unsuccessful, I fear, for the officer in whose
charge I left it had underestimated its power at a particularly
sharp bend, and bent it beyond repair.
In the search for transport during the early days of the Allied
occupation the officers of the Rome Organization naturally had
a considerable advantage over those newly arrived in the city.
Just as we knew where to find the excellent flats vacated by de-
parted Fascists, we were able to lay our hands on enemy-owned
cars, which had been stowed away in 'safe' hiding-places. With-
in hours of receiving permission to requisition, our organization
was fully mobile, although not all the cars were gleaming giants.
Our knowledge of Rome helped us to overcome problems more
difficult than the finding of cars and flats. There was the small
matter of the odd 100,000 lire, borrowed in the dark days of
January against a contract which I had signed, undertaking to
repay in sterling within five days of the liberation. Anxious to
honour this contract, I ran up against the very obstacle I had
foreseen when the British military banking authority refused
point-blank to release sterling under any circumstances. This prob-
lem was by no means insurmountable for an organization as
skilled as ours in black-market dealing, for we knew that floating
around was a good deal of English currency, which had been
smuggled in or illegally cashed by Allied troops at an attractive
rate of exchange. Our Italian contacts were therefore set to work
in the channels they knew so well, and by the next day we had
enough British notes to repay the debt in full.
Another debt, incalculable, and perhaps never quite repayable,
still remained our debt to those who risked everything to help
us. The erstwhile Rome Organization was able and happy to
help in this task. We were undergoing a metamorphosis, and
emerged as the prototype of a new organization that was to oper-
ate all over the world as the cannon quietened and shattered
cities came back to life. Sir D'Arcy Osborne and I had foreseen
the need, and had discussed it frequently. We planned the broad
outlines of what I had described to Lieutenant Furman as "the
commission," while at the War Office, the Deputy Director of
Military Intelligence, Brigadier Norman Crocket, C.B.E., D.S.O.,
M.G., to whom all reports of the organization's work had found
their way, spent many hours working out the details, and the
238 THE ROME ESCAPE LINE
Gommander-in-Chief himself had given it much thought, as was
evident in my interview with him.
Thus the ad hoc organization at the Via Scialoia flat had
powerful backing, and to this was rapidly added the support of
the various military organizations established in Rome. The Rome
Area Command had scarcely settled in the city before it found
itself deluged with appeals from Italians bearing promises of
monetary payment, commendations for good service, and lOU's
on odd scraps of paper signed by British servicemen. The Rome
Organization had never issued chits of this sort, but many in-
dividual escapers had given them to Italians who had helped
It was, I think, a great advantage for the Rome Area Com-
mand to know that there was a unit to which the flood of chits
could be diverted, and one that could deal with the steady stream
of complaints from Italians who had been forced into hiding, and
now wished to give information against collaborators. To our
headquarters were diverted also the hundreds of Italians who,
immediately after the liberation, began to besiege Monsignor
O'Flaherty's office with appeals for some form of recognition
that they had been good patriots.
The key to the truth of most of these claims still lay buried in
the Vatican gardens, so, as unobtrusively as we had planted them,
we unearthed the biscuit-tins containing the records of eight in-
credible months, and in our new task the bits and pieces of in-
formation that had been crammed into these tins proved to be
buried treasure indeed.
During the months at the British Legation, just within the
southern wall of the Vatican, I had often conjectured about that
part of the city-state, hidden from my view by the vast basilica
of St Peter's, which housed the looo-room Papal Palace that
occupies a tenth of the entire state's no acres. The chance to see
for myself came one day when things were running smoothly,
and the First Secretary, Mr Hugh Montgomery, a devout
Catholic, invited me to go with him for a Papal audience.
With Mr Montgomery and Colonel Miflhouse, I went through
the great bronze doors at the northern end of the fagade of St
Peter's, up the long, wide stairs, and through a succession of
chambers and galleries ornamented with the most magnificent
frescoes and tapestries. It has been said that this vast palace
contains more objects of intrinsic beauty than any other in the
In the heart of the Vatican we were ushered away from the
throne-room into a small anteroom. There we waited in silence,
conscious of the majesty of our surroundings, and of the fact
that we were being accorded the rare privilege of a private audi-
Anxious to do the right thing, though unaware of what was
expected of me, I was taken completely by surprise by the Holy
Father's entrance. I had rather expected that the double doors
would open grandly, picturesquely-dressed attendants would
make ringing announcements, and His Holiness, surrounded by
retainers, would pace in slowly and solemnly, a picture of grave
pageantry. In fact, the door was almost flung open, and, as though
in a bound, the late Pope Pius XII was before us, smiling, ener-
getic, and unexpectedly human. I found myself half kneeling,
not knowing what to do next, as I looked for the first time upon
the scholarly, saintly features of the man who, unknowingly, had
been my host for so long.
The piquancy of the situation was intensified when the Holy
Father addressed a question to me directly which left me tongue-
tied, but Mr Montgomery, perfect diplomat as always, cut in
quickly to say, "Major Deny is doing a great deal of work as our
liaison officer with the new Military Government in Rome."
His Holiness nodded approvingly, gave me a medallion com-
memorating the audience, and moved on to Colonel Millhouse,
leaving me vastly relieved that I had not been forced to depart
from the truth on such an august occasion.
For Pope Pius XII, in perfect English, had asked me, "And
how long have you been in Rome?"